Very few Americans had heard the term “distracted driving” as recently as a decade ago. Today, discussion of the dangers of distracted driving is heard in local, state and federal news reporting and in courts, legislatures and government agencies across the country.
The dangers are now well known. Individual drivers, especially teenagers, are at a much higher risk of getting into accidents when they email, text or call others while driving.Distracted driving makes crashing four times more likely and may contribute to as much as 8,000 crashes per day. Nationwide, over 30,000 people died in car accidents in 2010. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation estimates that in 2011, as many as 58 people died in 14,200 crashes in the state involving distracted driving.
In some cases, companies may be vicariously liable for damages in accidents caused by the distracted driving of their drivers. The risks have led some businesses to implement policies that ban employee driver use of electronic devices in company vehicles. Trucking companies are among the leaders in banning the use of devices in their fleets.
Federal and state governments have also acted, banning handheld devices or text messaging in most states. However, no state has completely banned cell phone use, including handsfree, by drivers. New York’s efforts to combat distracted driving led to “Operation Hang Up,” a state-wide enforcement crackdown that ticketed over 1,300 device-using drivers. Over 65,000 drivers in that state have been ticketed so far in 2012 for distracted driving.
A new federal law targeting commercial truck and bus drivers prohibits the use of handheld devices while driving certain large vehicles. Penalties for violating the law include fines of up to $2,750, loss of an operator’s license and company fines as high as $11,000.
Drivers or passengers injured in accidents caused by distracted drivers may be entitled to compensation. And with states across the country banning texting and calling while driving, victims have fewer barriers to exercising their rights against distracted drivers who break the law.