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Death by Distraction


Driver distraction—a term which encompasses all sorts of activities that decrease a driver’s focus on the task at hand—is not only hard to stop, but it is hard to measure. In 2016, over 100 people died every day in or near vehicles (this includes pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists) in America, the first time that this country has hit this marker in over a decade. But Americans do not appear to be speeding more, or drinking more, or traveling more to account for the greater number of traffic-related fatalities. So what are Americans doing more of to account for this increase?

The increase in traffic fatalities occurred at the same time as three other notable increases/changes: (1) an increase in smartphone ownership and use—81% of Americans now own smartphones; (2) the way in which we use our smartphones has changed—we tend to text, share photos, tweet, etc, rather than talk; and (3) an increase in pedestrian, bicyclist and motorcyclist crash fatalities. While the increase in non-motor vehicle crash fatalities from 2004-2013 has been reported, the rise in traffic deaths due to smart phone use while driving has not. Why?

There are several reasons why driver distraction in general and cell phone use in particular are not typically listed as the cause of an accident. The first reason is a very basic one: most accident report forms do not list “distraction” or “mobile phone use” as a cause. While it is illegal in 15 states for drivers to use hand-held phones, and 47 states outlaw texting while driving, only 11 states have accident reporting forms with a field for mobile phone distraction.

The second reason is that it can be very tough to prove whether or not a cell phone was in use at the time of a crash, and even tougher to prove whether the use of the cell phone was a cause of the crash rather than simply coincidental to it. If speeding, drinking or drugs were involved, many times law enforcement stops its investigation there rather than pursuing phone records to determine whether a driver was on his or her cell phone at the time of a crash.


It took a national campaign of education and awareness to create an entire cultural shift about drinking and driving. The campaign worked, and it is no longer socially acceptable to drink and drive. The same must happen with cell phone use and driving. The true number of fatalities associated with the distraction caused by using our cell phones while we drive must be reported, and that includes fatalities from not only the other vehicles slammed into, but the pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists run over as well. Only when the enormity of the problem is revealed will a cultural shift begin that makes driving and cell phone use unacceptable.

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Thomas Law Firm
Located at 945 East Paces Ferry Road, Resurgens Plaza, GA 30326.

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