Even careful drivers can become distracted, so it’s important to understand how distracted driving crashes happen and what you can do to prevent distractions behind the wheel
Remember Ferris Bueller... that 1980s movie character? And his iconic line: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
There were no cell phones back then, but distracted driving has always existed. Ferris' quote still resonates today, particularly when it comes to distracted driving. That text, notification, or ring is never worth causing an accident.
Distracted driving kills. That's a fact.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that nearly 80% of crashes nationwide and 65% of near-crashes involve some form of distraction within the 3 seconds before the collision.
The moral of the story:
If you need to use the phone, stop driving and pull over to a safe place to do so.
What is distracted driving?
The NHTSA defines distracted driving as:
"Any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system — anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving."
In other words, distracted driving:
- Takes your hands off the wheel (manual distractions)
- Takes your eyes off the road (visual distractions)
- Takes your mind off the task of driving (cognitive distractions)
We hear a lot about mobile phones and distraction — and they are definitely a primary culprit — but there are other activities that distract a driver, too. Even the most careful driver is occasionally distracted, so be mindful of what you're also doing when you drive.
Some examples of activities that are included in distracted driving are:
- Using a mobile phone or electronic device in any way (not just for texting or talking)
- Eating or drinking
- Passengers (making noise or behaving in a distracting way)
- Hair brushing, applying makeup, shaving, or other personal grooming
- Reading or viewing paper maps
- Using a GPS or other navigation system
- Using other dashboard controls (adjusting heat or cooling, or other functions)
- Adjusting the radio or CD player
- Loud music
- Outside distractions (something happening outside your vehicle)
What makes distracted driving so dangerous?
You might be confident that you would never drink and drive because you're aware of how dangerous it is to yourself and others. But many people who would never dream of drunk driving would take a quick peek at their phone if it rings or buzzes... and they feel that's "okay", but it isn't.
Car and Driver performed a test of experienced drivers to see how reaction times were impacted by texting and driving as compared to drinking and driving.
To perform the test, the car was fitted with a light mounted on the windshield that would simulate a car's brake lights. The drivers were instructed to hit the brakes when the light went on. The test took place on an open runway with no obstacles, and the drivers were using typical phones.
Take a look at their findings:
|Driver #1 (age 22)
|Driver #2 (age 37)
|When driving 35 miles per hour
|Baseline reaction time
|Reading a text
|0.57 seconds (extra 21 feet)
|Writing a text
|0.52 seconds (extra 16 feet)
|When driving 70 miles per hour
|Baseline reaction time
|Reading a text
|0.50 seconds (extra 30 feet)
|0.91 seconds (extra 90 feet)
|Writing a text
|0.48 seconds (extra 31 feet)
|0.68 seconds (extra 319 feet)
|0.50 seconds (extra 15 feet)
These results demonstrate that reading and writing texts slows reaction time just as much (if not more) than driving drunk.
The NHTSA has said that sending or reading a single text takes an average of 5 seconds. In those 5 seconds, a person driving 55 miles per hour can travel the entire length of a football field. In essence, you've driven the length of that football field with your eyes closed.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says that a child is 4 times more distracting than an adult passenger, and an infant is 8 times more distracting.
Tips for reducing distractions from children in the car:
- Always have your child properly restrained in the back seat.
- Your child's harness straps should be worn snugly and your child must stay in their seat.
- If your child gets out of their car seat or belt, pull over and stop the car as soon as you can do so safely. You should not put the car back in motion until the child is safely restrained.
- If your child continues to remove their harness straps, there are products that provide ways to fasten belts in the back so the child can't loosen or remove them.
- Allow your child to have soft toys or books in the car so they can be occupied.
- Try playing children's music or stories for them to listen to.
- Stop often so kids can get out and stretch their legs (encourage them to "get their sillies out").
Kentucky distracted driving laws
Kentucky banned texting while driving in a 2010 law. The law specifies that texting and driving is prohibited for all drivers while the vehicle is in motion.
If a driver is age 18 or older, they may use a device as a GPS or for reading, selecting, or entering a telephone number or name for making a call. A driver over 18 may use their phone for talking.
If a driver is less than 18, they may not use any personal communication device while the vehicle is in motion. A GPS is permitted, but information that requires manual entry must be completed while the vehicle is stopped.
The exception is that anyone may use a phone to call for medical help or a public safety agency in an emergency.
Furthermore, the texting law does not apply to:
- Using a GPS that's integrated into the vehicle
- An operator of an emergency or public safety vehicle using it to perform official duties
- Reporting illegal activity
- Communications necessary to prevent injury to a person or property
Penalties for violating the Kentucky cell phone law
If you're caught texting while driving, you would be fined $25 for a first violation and $50 for subsequent violations. This also adds 3 points to your driving record.
Under some circumstances, a texting or phone violation could lead to a reckless driving conviction. If you caused an accident that results in a fatality, you could be charged with vehicular homicide.
Are you always at fault if you cause an accident while texting?
This is a good question to ask your car accident lawyer.
The general rule of personal injury law is that the negligent party is responsible for paying for the victim's injuries. Kentucky's car insurance laws complicate this a little because Kentucky is a no-fault state. If you're in an accident, each person would first turn to their own insurance to cover their injury costs, regardless of who is at fault.
If the accident leads to severe injuries, or if the costs exceed the amount of the victim's insurance coverage, then they would turn to the at-fault driver for the remainder of the expenses. At that point, it does matter very much who caused the accident because that is part of determining how much a victim can receive in damages.
If a driver causes an accident while texting, they could be liable under Kentucky negligence per se standards. This would apply to any instance when:
- A driver violates a safety law, and
- The violation causes an injury.
Negligence per se is when the defendant acted in a way that violated a law or rule designed specifically to prevent the injury that happened. In other words, laws that make distracted driving illegal are specifically intended to prevent those kinds of accidents. If a person was driving distracted and caused an accident, that person is presumed liable because they were violating a law designed to prevent that from happening.
A negligence per se claim allows the plaintiff to shift focus away from liability and more to how much compensation they should be entitled to.
The burden of proof would be on the plaintiff (victim) to establish that the defendant was negligent. Sometimes this is accomplished when an attorney obtains records from the phone company that can show whether and how the phone was being used at the time of the crash.
Calculating damages after a Kentucky distracted driving accident
In many distracted driving cases, you can receive damages to cover the cost of your injuries from an accident. As mentioned above, your first claim is to your own personal injury protection (PIP) policy, which will cover injuries other than those that are very severe. PIP does not cover non-economic damages like pain and suffering, loss of consortium, or emotional distress.
If the accident results in very serious injury or those not covered by PIP insurance, your insurance company can make a claim against the other driver's insurance.
If the settlement offered by the insurance company is lower than what you believe you deserve, or if the accident was severe enough that you require compensation for pain and suffering or emotional distress, you'll need to pursue a personal injury lawsuit. The insurance company only covers physical injury treatment, lost wages, and property loss.
Damages for distracted driving crashes
If you're the victim of distracted driving, you deserve to receive financial compensation.
The purpose of the personal injury law system is to make an injured person whole. While no court or lawsuit can heal your physical injuries, the legal system is designed to restore you to the financial condition you'd be in if the accident hadn't happened.
In that effort, you may be able to recover damages for:
- Costs for medical treatment, both current and future
- Lost wages and earning capacity, current and future
- Ongoing therapies and adaptive devices
- Assistance with costs of daily living (housekeeping, home aides, etc. if you're disabled as a result of the accident)
- Property loss (cost of vehicle repair or replacement)
- Pain and suffering and other emotional distress
- Other expenses related to the accident
10 safe driving tips to avoid distracted driving
Distracted driving affects everyone on the road — both the distracted driver and other road users. If you're the driver, here are some distracted driving prevention tips and advice:
- Never hold your phone in your hand. If you need to use it as your GPS, mount it to the dashboard so you can see the map without taking your eyes off the road. Turn off other notifications so you're not seeing other banners or pop-up notifications on the map while you're driving.
- Silence your phone before getting in the car.
- It's not just about texting — don't use any apps or social media while driving. If you need to send a text or look at something, pull over where it's safe to do so.
- Don't text or call someone if you know they're likely to be driving.
- If you can't resist looking at your phone when it buzzes, keep it somewhere you can't get it, like in the back seat or trunk, so that you're not tempted to sneak a peek. Some phones now have a Do Not Disturb While Driving function. If yours does, it can be a useful way to avoid being distracted.
- Don't eat or drink while driving.
- If you listen to music or podcasts from your phone while driving, queue your selections before you go so you don't have to touch your phone while behind the wheel.
- Don't allow your passengers to be a distraction.
- If you drop something on the floor of the car, either leave it there until you've reached your destination or pull over to retrieve it.
- Regardless of what's happening outside the car, don't use your phone to take videos while driving. If you feel like recording traffic is useful, purchase a separate dash cam that can record without driver intervention.
Do I need a lawyer after a distracted driving accident?
If you were injured and suspect that the other driver might have been distracted at the time of the crash, you might wish to consult a lawyer. If your injuries are severe and aren't covered in full by your own insurance, a lawyer is the best person to help you negotiate a fair settlement.
One problem with distracted driving is that it's difficult to prove. When a driver is drunk, tests at the scene can prove that they had alcohol or drugs in their body. But distraction is much more difficult to ascertain. Often, it's only able to be shown by requesting cell phone records and through witness testimony — and even that is tricky.