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Distracted driving as a possible source of negligence

When intoxication is a contributing factor in an auto accident, it is easy to see why that is. Too much alcohol can lead to poor judgment, reduced motor skills and degraded reaction times, all of which make becoming involved in a car accident more likely.

There is another source of driving impairment that is gaining more recognition with the increasing prevalence of handheld technology: distracted driving. Like alcohol intoxication, being distracted behind the wheel increases the risk that a driver will make a critical error that leads to an accident. The simple act of talking on a cell phone, for example, increases the chance of a car accident occurring by up to 400 percent.

And although it may sound incredible, cell phone usage is not the most serious cause of driver distraction.

The sources of driver distraction are numerous. Most anything that takes the driver’s attention off of the act of driving qualifies, such as:

  • Having a conversation with another person, even without using a cellphone (it is not the holding of a device that is the source of the distraction, but the conversation).
  • Reaching for an object. This can include sunglasses, a water bottle, or something that fell onto the floor of the car.
  • Drinking, eating and smoking.
  • Focusing on vehicle systems. This includes in-car stereos or navigation systems.
  • Letting a pet roam free in the car.
  • Adjusting seats or mirrors while the vehicle is underway. 

The champion source of distracted driving is not talking, but texting. Texting while driving can make a driver more than 20 times more likely get into an accident.

Most of these distractors seem both obvious and avoidable. But when it comes to texting while driving, almost half of drivers aged 16 to 24 admit to doing it, and two-thirds of drivers aged 25 to 34 have admitted to talking on the cellphone while driving. Any car accident in which an injured plaintiff can demonstrate that another driver was engaged in distracted driving makes it easier to show that such an individual knew, or should have known, that it increased the risk to others. That can go far toward establishing a cause of action for negligence.

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