FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2009-10-01
A public service announcement made by the British government concerning the dangers of teens texting while driving became a viral video sensation overnight. The video gained so much publicity largely because of its graphic and disturbing portrayal of a car accident caused by a young driver texting on her cell phone while driving with her two friends. The message of the video, however, should not be overshadowed by the video's controversy: teens and texting are a deadly mix.
Distracted Drivers Are a Leading Cause of Accidents
It had long been assumed that drunk drivers were the biggest danger on US roadways. In fact, distracted drivers actually cause more accidents than drunk drivers. Statistics by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) attribute 4 out of 5 accidents (80 percent) to distracted drivers. In contrast, drunk drivers account for roughly 1 out of 3 (33 percent) of all accidents nationally. [If you are paying attention you will note that some accidents are caused by drivers who are both intoxicated and distracted — a particularly deadly combination.]
A study released this summer by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) found that texting is the most dangerous distraction for drivers. The study showed that people who text while operating a motor vehicle have a 23 times — that is TWENTY-THREE TIMES — greater risk of being in an accident. In comparison, NHTSA statistics show that drivers who drive while intoxicated have a four times greater risk of being in a motor vehicle accident. In other words, texting while driving is about 6 times more likely to result in an accident that is driving while intoxicated. We point this out not to condone driving and drinking but to put the danger of texting while driving into the proper perspective.
Other studies have shown that the risk presented by talking on a cell phone while driving is similar to that presented by drunk driving. Text messaging while driving, on the other hand, is actually much more dangerous because drivers must take their eyes off the roadway while typing or reading a message.
Teen Drivers More Prone to Texting, Accidents
Texting and driving is a dangerous behavior for any driver. The dangers are exponentially increased when the driver is young and inexperienced.
Teen drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a fatal car accident than any other age group. Car accidents remain the number one cause of death of people 16 to 20 years old. Unfortunately, teen drivers are also more likely to engage in risky behaviors while driving, such as speeding, tailgating, and not wearing seatbelts.
Teens are also more likely to text and drive than other age groups. In a 2007 study conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, 50 percent of the teens surveyed admitted to texting while driving — even though they acknowledged that it was a dangerous thing to do.
State Texting Bans
In response to the rising number of accidents attributed to texting, many states have taken action to ban the practice in their jurisdictions. Some states have passed a partial ban targeting young drivers while others have passed complete bans for all drivers. Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia have passed some type of texting ban.
Pennsylvania, however, has not yet joined this growing national trend. The state currently has not passed any laws that restrict a driver's use of a cell phone or ban texting while driving. In August, Lower Chichester became the first township in the state to pass a local ordinance banning drivers from texting while driving.
Pennsylvania may be forced to pass a state-wide texting ban if a bill introduced into Congress over the summer becomes law. The legislation proposes to cut 25 percent of the federal transportation and highway funding to any state that does not have a texting ban. The federal government took similar action to force states to pass seatbelt laws and lower the legal alcohol limit for driving to 0.08.
The full impact of the dangers of texting while driving has only recently begun to receive the attention it deserves. Accidents caused by drivers who were sending or reading text messages instead of paying attention to the road result in catastrophic injury and loss. The potential for one of these accidents increases when the driver is young and inexperienced.
If you have been injured in a car accident by a distracted driver, contact an experienced attorney today to learn more about your legal options. More importantly, stop texting while driving and talk with your teenaged drivers about this important safety issue.