Distracted Driving is a Leading Cause of Car Accidents Nationwide

Jun 20, 2022 - Car Accidents

The dangers of distracted driving are well-known. Texting and other distractions interfere with drivers’ ability to stay safe in multiple ways, and it only takes a split-second of inattention for a driver to cause a serious or fatal accident.

As the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) explains, “The task of driving requires full attention and focus. . . . In some circumstances even a second or two can make all the difference in a driver being able to avoid a crash.” The NHTSA also reports that there were more than 3,000 fatal distracted driving accidents in the United States in 2020, all of which could have been avoided. Worryingly, the number of fatal distracted driving accidents increased by 12 percent in 2020 despite this being the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These numbers make distracted driving one of the leading causes of fatal car accidents in the United States. It is among the leading causes of non-fatal car accidents in the U.S. as well. This is true despite the fact that these accidents are 100 percent preventable.

92 Percent of Drivers Use Their Cell Phone Behind the Wheel

EverQuote, an online insurance marketplace, recently released a study that found that 92 percent of drivers in the United States use their phones behind the wheel. While this is an alarming statistic, it helps explain why distracted driving is a leading cause of car accidents, and it underscores the importance of curbing cellphone use behind the wheel.

The study also found that the average drive time of participants was 21 minutes, with an average of 88 seconds spent on the phone.

Another interesting aspect of the study was its focus on the “Do Not Disturb” feature available on many cellphones. According to the study, 75 percent of drivers who used this feature said it made them better drivers, with only 15 percent saying it did not. However, one in four drivers intentionally disabled the feature during the study and enabling “Do Not Disturb” only decreased drivers’ cellphone use by 8 percent.

Voice Commands and Hands-Free Cellphone Use Don’t Prevent Distracted Driving Accidents

Many cars and cellphones offer voice commands and hands-free calling and texting features, and manufacturers have touted these as new safety benefits. Several states have enacted laws specifically allowing the use of these features while prohibiting handheld cellphone use behind the wheel. While some studies have found that these features slightly reduce the risk of causing an accident due to distraction, as The Washington Post reports, “[u]sing hands-free cellphones when you drive is not as safe as you think.”

In its report, the Washington Post cites a report from the National Safety Council (NSC) that concluded:

“[D]riving bans targeting only handheld phones ‘give a false impression that using a hands-free phone is safe.’ Citing simulation research, the report noted that drivers using hands-free phones looked less at traffic lights, car mirrors, dashboard instruments, and peripheral areas than non-phone users, and were slower to brake.”

When you look at the reasons why cellphone use behind the wheel is dangerous, this is not surprising. As the NHTSA explains, handheld cellphone use causes three different types of distractions:

  • Cognitive – Talking on the phone, texting, and reading emails and social media posts all take drivers’ minds off of the task of driving.
  • Manual – When drivers are holding their phones, they do not have both hands firmly on the wheel.
  • Visual – When drivers are texting, reading emails or social media posts, or looking up phone numbers to call, they are not looking at the road.

Moving from handheld to hands-free cellphone use only removes one of these distractions. Hands-free cellphone use still causes cognitive and visual impairments. Noting that handheld cellphone use may be “slightly” worse, the NHTSA writes that “The available research indicates that cell phone use while driving, whether it is a hands-free or hand-held device, degrades a driver’s performance. The driver is more likely to miss key visual and audio cues needed to avoid a crash. . . . [H]ands-free devices are not risk-free.”

How Pennsylvania Ranks Among the Most Dangerous States for Distracted Driving

The consumer finance website MoneyGeek recently published a list of the most dangerous states in the U.S. for distracted driving. The list is based on data from the NHTSA and the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics and ranks all 50 states based on the distracted driving fatality rate per billion miles traveled.

Based on this metric, Pennsylvania ranks 31st worst in the nation for distracted driving. Pennsylvania has a rate of 0.59 distracted driving fatalities per billion miles traveled—far below the worst state’s rate of 5.36 percent, but more than double the safest state’s rate of 0.28 percent.

However, when ranking all 50 states simply based on the number of distracted driving deaths annually, Pennsylvania moves up the list. Based on this metric, Pennsylvania ranks 19th worst in the United States.

What Are Your Rights in the Event of a Distracted Driving Accident?

Due to the significant financial and emotional costs of being seriously injured or losing a loved one in a distracted driving car accident, many victims and families will find themselves needing to file claims for financial compensation. Auto insurance covers distracted driving accidents, and distracted driving is clearly a form of negligence that justifies fault-based insurance claims.

While some accident victims and families have filed claims against cellphone manufacturers, to date these claims have largely been unsuccessful. “Do Not Disturb” features enable drivers to avoid cellphone-related driving distractions; and, as these companies’ defense lawyers have argued, it is ultimately up to the driver to decide whether or not to pick up the phone.

Speak with a Lawyer about Filing a Claim for a Distracted Driving Accident in Pennsylvania

If you have been seriously injured or lost a loved one in a distracted driving accident in Pennsylvania, our lawyers can help you assert your legal rights. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation, please call or contact us online today. 

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