Cell Phone Related Auto Accidents A Growing Epidemic

April 24, 2012

As we have all heard by now, this country has a serious problem with auto accidents caused by distracted driving. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 80% of all auto accidents involve some form of distracted driving. The main reason most drivers become distracted these days is because they cannot put down their cell phone. Just recently, the NHTSA issued report on actual or near car accidents involving drivers on cell phones. Based on the report, young drivers had the highest level of cell-phone involved car accidents or near car accident incidents than any age group. Of drivers aged 18 to 20 who were involved in an auto accident, 13% admitted they were using their cell phone at the time of the crash. As a Chicago personal injury lawyer experienced in prosecuting auto accidents involving distraction, the NHTSA's report is certainly troubling--but hardly surprising.

Just recently, I was driving my own children home from soccer. In front of me was a twenty-something stopped at a green light. After five seconds, I tapped my horn and she sped off. Two blocks later, we came to a stop again. As I looked at her through her rear view mirror, I saw her head quickly tilt down and not move for at least twenty seconds. When the light turned green, traffic in front of her moved. She didn't. Once again, I honked my horn. Her head popped up and she hit the gas--but not without glaring at me from her rear view mirror. Apparently, I had distracted her from an important text or email. As we traveled another few blocks, I saw her head tilt down again but, this time, she was not stopped. She was driving down the road, with traffic in front of her, in a residential neighborhood. A half block later, cars in front of her slowed down. She didn't. I immediately honked my horn again, hoping to distract her attention to the road. Fortunately, it worked--but just barely. She slammed on her brakes and just missed hitting the mini van in front of her. Having just experienced a near miss collision, you would think she learned her lesson, right? Nope. She tilted her head back down and returned to her cell phone.

Last year, I wrote an article suggesting texting while driving may be worse than drunk driving. I stand by that statement. If someone is driving while drunk, their ability to react is impaired. If someone is driving while texting or emailing, their ability to react is often non-existent. Young drivers are probably the worst offenders--10% of whom admit they routinely use their cell phone while driving.

According to the NHTSA, drivers that use their cell phone are four times as likely to get into an auto accident involving personal injury than drives not on their cell phones. According to a University of Utah study, cell phone distraction while driving, which typically includes talking on the phone rather than texting or emailing, extends a driver's reaction time as much as being legally intoxicated while driving. Indeed, driving while using a cell phone reduces the brains ability to concentrate on driving by 37 percent.

The fact all states do not have a complete ban on texting and emailing while driving is incomprehensible. In fact, 80% of drivers support a ban on texting while driving. The same is true for emailing while driving. However, we cannot simply rely on lawmakers to stop behavior we know is wrong and dangerous. Deep down, everyone knows we should not text or email while driving. Yet, most us are probably guilty of having done this at least once. We rationalize that it is just for a second and convince ourselves nothing bad will happen. Because the risk of a car accident is four times greater when a driver is using their cell phone, this thinking is dead wrong.

Sources Used:

NHTSA Report, Young Drivers Report the Highest Level of Phone Involvement in Crash or Near-Crash Incidences, April 2012.

Nationwide Insurance Website, Driving While Distracted: Statistics To Know, Taken April 23, 2012.