Federal Government Striving to Reduce Texting While Driving

Media and government warnings about texting while driving are strongly backed by data showing that distracted driving causes thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of accidents annually.

Cellphone use has become a leading cause of distracted driving accidents, especially among teenagers and young adult drivers. Texting and driving use similar parts of the brain, and experts say the human brain can't handle both at the same time without sacrificing safety. Driving quality decreases nearly 40 percent, according to one study.

A Monash University study found that drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to be involved in injury-causing crashes. Drivers who text behind the wheel increase their crash risk by 23 times, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Texting takes a driver's eyes off the road for an average of nearly 5 seconds per text, which if traveling at 55 mph means going the length of an entire football field without looking at the road.

Nationwide, over 415,000 people were injured and over 3,000 died in distracted driving crashes in 2010, making up nearly one in five of the total number of reported accidents. The numbers for young drivers are even more startling. Forty percent of teens say they have been in vehicles where the driver was distracted by a cellphone and it put them at risk, and over one in ten drivers in fatal crashes under age 20 were distracted when the accident took place.

Government Action

The Department of Transportation is taking steps to address this national epidemic. The plan includes education, funding, technology and legal measures designed to discourage distracted driving. An important step is teaching teenagers that texting while driving is dangerous. The DOT is also providing funding to states to step up police enforcement of state-wide bans and launch public awareness campaigns. At least 39 states, including Massachusetts, have passed anti-texting laws or comprehensive bans on cellphone use while driving.

The DOT is also calling for legislation to require automakers to include dashboard technologies that prevent distracted driving, while encouraging manufacturers to voluntarily install such technology. Further, the agency has pressed congress to pass a nationwide ban on cellphone use behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, many drivers continue to use cell phones while sharing the road with other drivers, passengers and bystanders. Victims of distracted driving accidents may suffer from permanent disability and the loss of earning capacity for themselves and their families. If a distracted driver caused you injury, contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your legal rights.