Accident data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals that distracted driving accidents around the country claim thousands of lives and leave hundreds of thousands of road users injured every year. Road safety advocacy groups say that the situation has been getting progressively worse due to a near epidemic growth in the use of cellphones by drivers, and they point out that this kind of behavior is particularly dangerous as it causes distraction in three different ways.
Cellphones cause manual distractions when drivers take their hands off their steering wheels to access data or type out text messages, and motorists are visually distracted when they look away from the road ahead to read a message or view the source of an incoming call. However, cognitive distraction may be the most dangerous distraction of all, and cellphones cause it by encouraging drivers to allow their minds to wander as they listen to what others are saying or read what they have typed.
Driving defensively and remaining vigilant may reduce the chances of being involved in a distracted driving crash, but experts say that the best thing that drivers can do to lower their risks is to switch off their phones before setting out. Those who must remain available are advised to use only hands-free cellphones, but even these devices can cause cognitive distraction. Other precautionary measures include programming navigation systems while vehicles are stopped and checking that all passengers and pets are properly restrained.
While distracted drivers may face lawsuits and criminal prosecutions when they cause deaths or injuries, proving distraction in court can be difficult for prosecutors and personal injury attorneys alike. Prosecutors must prove guilt beyond any reasonable doubt, but the burden of proof is not as strict in civil court. Attorneys representing car accident victims must demonstrate negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, and they may use cellphone records and automobile black box data when attempting to do so.