The dangers of using a cell phone while driving are well-documented and well-known. The National Safety Council estimates that 21 percent of all crashes in 2010 involved talking on cell phones – accounting for 1.1 million crashes that year – and that at least three percent of car accidents are estimated to involve texting. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2009 alone, nearly 5,500 fatalities and 500,000 injuries resulted from crashes involving a distracted driver, and drivers who use cell phones are four times more likely to get into injury-causing auto accidents.
Distracted driving is so dangerous, in fact, that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has called for a nationwide ban on texting and making phone calls while driving. Although distracted driving often involves the use of cell phones, it involves any activity that diverts the driver’s attention from the task of driving, such as texting, using a cell phone, eating, drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading maps, using a GPS system, or adjusting the radio. Moreover, distracted driving often involves cognitive distractions, in addition to visual and manual distractions.
For instance, recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research shows that dangerous mental distractions exist even when drivers use hands-free devices and keep their eyes on the road. The Foundation’s research found that as mental workload and distractions increase, reaction times are slower, brain function is compromised, and drivers scan the road less. Consequently, drivers often miss seeing stop signs, pedestrians, and road hazards.
According to AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger, “These findings reinforce previous research that hands-free is not risk-free. Increased mental workload and cognitive distractions can lead to a type of tunnel vision or inattention blindness where motorists don’t see potential hazards right in front of them.”
The National Safety Council recently released a report regarding cognitively distracted driving. The report highlights the fact that many people use cell phones while driving in an attempt to “multi-task,” but that the human brain is not designed to perform two tasks at the same time. As a result, one of the tasks is compromised and, when driving is comprised, auto accidents can result.
Based on its research findings, AAA recommends that the automotive and electronics industries consider exploring ways to reduce cognitive driving distractions by:
- Limiting the use of voice-activated technology to core driving-related activities, such as climate control, windshield wipers and cruise control, and ensuring that these applications do not lead to increased safety risk due to mental distraction while a car is moving.
- Disabling certain functionalities of voice-to-text technologies, such as using social media or interacting with e-mail and text messages, so that they are inoperable while the vehicle is in motion.
- Educating vehicle owners and mobile device users about the responsible use and safety risks for in-vehicle technologies.
At Cogan & Power, P.C., our Chicago accident and injury lawyers are committed to promoting safety and protecting the rights of accident and injury victims, including those injured as a result of distracted driving. Drivers are reminded that not only is the use of handheld cell phones while driving prohibited throughout Illinois, but the use of hands-free devices is dangerous and should be avoided as well.