Stay Focused and Save Lives During National Distracted Driving Awareness Month

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By Marcus Fernandez

Tampa is 14th on a list of the top cities in America with the most fatal accidents involving distracted motorists. Distracted driving causes 53,596 crashes on Florida roads that leave 268 people dead and cause severe injuries to another 2,574.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in the United States. This is the perfect time to examine the causes of distracted driving. Something as seemingly insignificant as checking your phone quickly in response to a text message or email can have dire consequences.

At KFB Law, we believe that being aware of the risky behaviors that cause accidents and how to avoid them is the best way to stay safe when driving. This blog post explains why distracted driving is one of the leading causes of vehicle crashes. It also explores how to become a safer and more attentive motorist.

What is distracted driving?

Driving a car requires more than simply placing your hands on the steering wheel and pressing the gas pedal to make it go or stopping it by pressing the brake pedal. You’ll need the ability to see the road and the cognitive skills to recognize hazards and stop or maneuver around them. 

Not surprisingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists three primary types of driving distraction:

  • Visual
  • Manual
  • Cognitive

Each type of driving distraction corresponds to one of the skills required for the safe operation of a motor vehicle.

Visual distraction

You wouldn’t drive a car while wearing a blindfold, but engaging in an activity that diverts your eyes from the road has the same effect as driving blindfolded or with your eyes closed. Have you ever glanced at your cell phone while driving to see who sent you a text message? 

If you took your eyes off the road for only five seconds while driving at 55 mph, your car would travel 300 feet. This is the length of a football field, without you seeing any of it. You might as well have been blindfolded. 

Text messages are only one of many sources of visual distraction. Other forms of behavior that divert your eyes from the task of driving include:

  • Adjusting your vehicle’s audio system.
  • Looking at buildings, billboards, scenery, or other roadside objects.
  • Rubbernecking accidents or police activities.
  • Turning your head or looking into the rearview mirror to talk to passengers or scold children seated in the rear seat.

It’s not that difficult to eliminate sources of visual distraction while driving. The easiest is to silence your cell phone and put it somewhere you won’t be tempted to glance at it. 

If you must make adjustments to the GPS or deal with unruly children, pull over to a place where you can safely park. Get back on the road only when you can devote your full attention to the task of driving.

Manual distraction

Any activity that takes your hands off the steering wheel is a form of manual distraction. Common activities that interfere with your ability to steer and control your car include:

  • Eating and drinking: Holding food or beverage containers takes at least one and sometimes both hands off the steering wheel. Eat before you begin your trip, or pull over and park in a safe location before eating or drinking.
  • Using a cell phone: Holding a phone while driving is a form of manual distraction, even if you are not texting or talking. Put the down while driving. 
  • Adjusting audio or climate control systems: Not only is it a visual distraction, but raising or lowering the volume or temperature is also a manual one because it requires the use of your hands. Focus on driving and let your passenger adjust the volume, select a song, or adjust the temperature. 

You may think you’ve perfected the art of steering the car using only your leg, but you need your hands on the steering wheel to maintain control after hitting a bump or pothole.

Cognitive distraction

Driving a car requires your full attention. Anything that takes your mind off the primary task is a distraction that could cause an accident. Your eyes may be on the road ahead of you, and your hands may be on the steering wheel, but if you’re thinking about something else, you may not react to a child darting across in front of you. 

The brain has a limited capacity to process information from multiple sources simultaneously. It cannot multitask, as people like to boast that it can. What you may think of as multitasking is the brain toggling between tasks, but it switches back and forth so quickly that a person believes they’re doing multiple tasks at once. 

As you talk on a cell phone using a hands-free device, your brain toggles between the conversation and the task of driving. You may not realize it, but you’re driving while cognitively distracted. Your focus and attention are not on the task of driving.

The best way to avoid cognitive distraction while driving is to focus your thoughts and attention exclusively on driving. Stay off the phone. Stop thinking about your big meeting at work later today. It’s best to focus all your attention on driving the car.

Another incentive for avoiding driver distractions

If avoiding a crash is not enough incentive to persuade you to avoid distracted driving, it’s also illegal. Distracted driving in Florida is a primary offense. This means a police officer can stop you for it without first observing you commit another law violation.

Some states make distracted driving a secondary offense. A police officer cannot pull you over for it without first observing the commission of a primary offense. For example, in a state where distracted driving is a secondary offense, a police officer who observes you holding a cell phone while driving cannot stop you unless observing a speeding or unsafe lane change violation, which are primary offenses. Because distracted driving is a primary offense in Florida, you can be pulled over for holding a cell phone in your hand even if a police officer does not see you commit another offense.   

Were you injured by a distracted driver?

If you suffer injuries in an accident caused by a distracted motorist, you may be entitled to compensation, including medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering damages. The Tampa personal injury attorneys at KFB Law can assist with a claim against the driver who was at fault. Contact us today to learn more during a free consultation.