Distracted Driver Awareness Series – Part 1 of 4 – Myth Busting

April is nationally recognized as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.  In honor of this, Biesterveld & Crook, LLC. will be conducting a four-part blog series on distracted driving and the dangerous role it plays in injury accident cases.  Part 1 of our series, Myth Busting, focuses on common misconceptions regarding cell phone use while driving.

Myth: Cell Phone Use While Driving is Safe for Great Multitaskers

A popular response when being confronted about cell phone use while driving is that “texting and driving isn’t dangerous for me because I’m a great multitasker”.  However, studies conducted by the National Safety Council combat this myth, as they state that the human brain is not able to properly do two things at the same time.

DistractedDriverAccidents.com delved further into why the brain is unable to handle this, and states that multitasking drains the brain of energy much faster.  When working on one task at a time, both sides of the brain work together to accomplish the task at hand.  When multitasking, the two sides run independently to switch back and forth between the different tasks.  This also causes disruption with short-term memory and leads to 40% loss in productivity. Diverting attention from driving, especially with cellular phone devices, increases the likelihood of being in a motor vehicle collision because of the internal struggle the brain experiences when trying to process multiple functions.

Myth: Hands-free Technology is a Safe Alternative

The National Safety Council busts another common excuse for texting and driving, which is “I only use hands-free phone technology when driving, which is safe”.  Since drivers talking on phones can miss seeing nearly half of their driving environments, including pedestrians, hands-free is not a viable option to remain fully focused on the road while using a cell phone.  80 percent of drivers across America reportedly believe that hands-free devices are safer than using handheld phones.

The popular television show Mythbusters teamed up with Stanford University to test the theory through driving tests.  During the simulation tests, which involved 30 drivers, two people were able to pass the driving test while talking on a cell phone.  15 drivers were tested with hands free sets, and only one passed.  To view the entire study, click here.

Myth: Texting While Stopped in Traffic is Safer Than Texting When Moving

“I only use my phone at stop lights” is another frequent response.  For this argument, studies show that people continue to be distracted up to 27 seconds after they finish sending a text.  This means that even after the stop light turns back to green, the driver could still be distracted and not fully attentive to his or her surroundings.

Recent phone applications such as Cellcontrol and LifeSaver have helped combat distracted driving by blocking texting while driving. Cellcontrol is a subscription-based service that features a device inserted in the vehicle and an accompanying app that blocks the driver from sending or receiving texts and emails while driving. LifeSaver allows parents to monitor their teen for distracted driving and reward safe driving. The driver experiences effortless change as the app automatically detects driving to lock or deter distractions. LifeSaver also provides a map updated in real time to see where distracted driving is taking place.

An article on The News Wheel  delves further into the dangers of texting at red lights.  It states that when drivers look at their phones at red lights, their foot can easily come off the break- causing the vehicle to crawl forward.  That driver then thinks that they see other cars moving, while in reality it’s because they are moving, and they then accelerate and look up to realize they still have a red light.  This can lead to entering dangerous intersections and risking collision with other vehicles coming from opposite directions.

Myth: Recent Awareness, Bans, and Legislation are Fixing the Problem 

Statistics gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show how common distracted driving is.  For instance, in Kansas there were 341 fatal car crashes in 2014.  76 of these, or 22% of those wrecks, were later confirmed to be a result of distracted driving.  Prior to cell phones, these figures were much smaller nationwide.  Distracted driving deaths were much less as well, and often involved trying to multitask with car related technologies, such as CD players and radios.

While stricter laws and bans on texting and driving are certainly helping matters, they are not completely eradicating the problem.  Various studies show that bans have aided in lowering certain statistics, such as hospitalizations that result from distracted driving collisions, but just banning texting and driving specifically is not as effective as universal bans on handheld cell phone use while driving.

CBS News, eDriving, and several others have reported that the stricter the bans and laws are, the more effective they become.  States that have “primary enforced texting bans” were most effective.  This means that law enforcement has authority to pull drivers over on just suspicion of texting.  Most states, including Kansas and Missouri, have adopted, or are working to adopt, some form of primary enforcement.  Nebraska, Florida, and South Dakota are among the few states left with secondary enforcement, meaning officers can only pull drivers over if they witnessed the crime being committed.

Local Example of the Consequences of Distracted Driving

Consequences of multitasking at the wheel can range from a small fender bender to a major motor vehicle collision, sometimes even involving pedestrians and life-threatening injuries.

In 2011, Kansas City teen Rachel Gannon was charged with vehicular manslaughter, third-degree assault, and texting while driving in connection with a September 2011 collision. According to court documents, the teen was accused of texting and driving while she was traveling north on NW Skyview Road in Kansas City, Missouri. She ran off the road, returned her vehicle to the road and struck a car heading in the opposite direction, taking the life of 72-year-old Loretta Larimer and injuring her 10-year-old  grandson passenger.

Under Missouri law, texting while driving is a crime for drivers under the age of 21.  KCTV5 news reported the Platte County prosecutor stating the Missouri legislature should prohibit texting while driving or all drivers, regardless of age.

Ms. Gannon plead to involuntary manslaughter, third-degree assault, and operating a motor vehicle while texting. She was given five years’ probation and 48 hours jail time. Fox 4 KC reported Gannon’s attorney stating “I think we could agree this is a parent’s worst nightmare.” He also acknowledged “I think we all could be more attentive on our driving. I think there is a message here for the community at large, and that’s to be more careful when you’re driving. So I think hopefully maybe some good could come out of a tragic case.” We couldn’t agree more.

Multi-tasking while operating a motor vehicle is clearly dangerous, as driving requires all of a driver’s attention and the consequences of failing to pay attention can be devastating.

Law makers, automobile manufacturers, and technology leaders are addressing the dangers of distracted driving in a number of ways.  Join us for Part 2 of our distracted driving awareness series next week, when we will explore possible solutions to the growing epidemic.


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