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Distracted driving is the new drunk driving

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

In 1997, chattering with pals, applying makeup, eating breakfast during your commute or glancing down at the radio to change the station were the big distracted driving concerns.

In 2017, add to the list texting, watching movies, video chatting with friends, Snapchatting, Facebook Live, and catching up on the president’s Tweets…and that’s just a handful of potentially disastrous distractions now available while behind the wheel.

The statistics are stark. Nearly 3,500 people were killed in distracted driver incidents in 2015 and nearly 400,000 were injured. Every day, 660,000 drivers are using electronic devices while driving. The same year, drunk driving killed just over 10,000 people, a number that continues to fall as distracted driving deaths and injuries rise.

Non-fatal automobile accidents that cause extensive property damage are also on the rise, leading to higher insurance rates and “sticker shock” among some customers. Distracted driving crashes cost the United States as much as $175 billion a year, according to a federal study.

Travelers said car insurance claims for 2016 were nearly 840,000, an 11% increase from 2015. Rate increases are likely to follow as carriers absorb these steep losses.

Parents need to lead by example

The stereotype is that teens are the ones creating road hazards by driving distracted. It’s true that teens are big offenders, but so are their parents, who admit in fairly big numbers to texting, setting GPS systems, looking after children, and even browsing the Internet while driving.

As with other bad behavior, children learn by example. When it’s time for the 14-year-old in the backseat to start driving, he will remember Mom driving and texting Dad “just this once.”

There’s nothing complicated about this. Like drunk driving, you just have to say no.

Disconnection apps

For adults who simply can’t resist the urge and parents who want extra protection for their driving children, there are a host of apps that prevent texting while driving. None are magic bullets, but they can help limit temptation. We cannot endorse any particular app, but here are a couple that claim to be able to use technology to prevent the inappropriate use of technology.

DriveSafe Mode will notify you when your teen is texting, Facebooking, and the like. It will also notify you if the app is turned off while driving.

Cellcontrol is designed for parents in particular. In addition to monitoring for distracted driving, it provides feedback based on harsh braking, speeding, and provides notes on how the driver can improve their performance.

Penalties will increase

Distracted driving is increasingly a high priority for traffic enforcement. Though the penalties for distracted driving are significantly less than those for drunk and drugged driving, we think the trend is moving in that direction. Too many lives are being lost and the economic impact is just too great for the relative slaps on the wrist that you receive in most jurisdictions to continue to be the norm.

In the 1970s, drunk driving was frowned upon but nonetheless common behavior with relatively modest punishments associated with it. Aggressive campaigns to limit this deadly activity ushered in the stiff penalties we see today, including mandatory jail time for repeat offenders.

The country’s experience with drunk driving, which dropped dramatically in the face of tougher enforcement, will inform how it confronts distracted driving. You can manage your family’s risk by educating your children and modifying your own behavior before it’s too late.


Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.