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Distracted Driving Accidents in New York Still A Threat

Eighteen years after New York became the first state in the nation to ban handheld cell phone use while driving, distracted driving – including talking on cell phones and texting behind the wheel – is still commonplace in New York.

In a New York State Police traffic enforcement operation in late August, troopers monitored traffic while posing as highway work zone construction workers. The troopers issued 112 traffic citations and 30 percent (34 tickets out of 112) were for cell phone use while behind the wheel. Only tickets for speeding tickets, with 40 issued, outnumbered them.

On August 29, several Tompkins County (Ithaca, N.Y.) law enforcement agencies joined forces to crack down on motorists using cell phones while driving and handed out 29 tickets in four hours – more than one every 9 minutes. Distracted driving remains a serious issue in New York and across the nation.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says 3,166 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2017 alone – 9% of all fatal crashes in 2017. In 401 cases (14% of distracted driving fatalities), drivers were using cell phones at the time of the crash. A total of 434 people died in fatal car accidents that involved distracting cell phone use, such as texting.

Among those killed in car accidents in 2017, 599 pedestrians, bicyclists and others not in vehicles died because of distracted driving.

What Actions are Considered Distracted Driving?

Distraction occurs when drivers take their eyes off the road or mind off the task of driving to focus on some other activity, NHTSA says. 

Discussions regarding distracted driving frequently center around cell phone use and texting. But distracted driving includes any activity that diverts attention from driving. 

Common sources of driver distraction include:

  • Cell phone use, including talking or texting while behind the wheel.
  • Other vehicle occupants, including pets.
  • Using any electronic device or video game brought into the car.
  • Eating or drinking.
  • Grooming, such as combing hair or applying makeup.
  • Adjusting the radio or climate controls.
  • Using devices or controls to operate the vehicle.
  • Daydreaming.
  • Person, object or event outside of the vehicle.

“Texting is the most alarming distraction,” NHTSA says. “Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road an average of 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.”

What Has The Government Done About Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving has been a public safety issue for more than 20 years.

The NHTSA released its first comprehensive report about the increase in distracted driving, “An Investigation of the Safety Implications of Wireless Communications in Vehicles,” in 1997.

A 2006 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) showed that drivers engaging in visually and/or manually complex tasks, such as texting, are three times more likely to crash or have a “near-crash” incident than drivers who are not distracted.

The often-repeated comparison of texting while driving and driving the length of a football field blindfolded dates to a 2009 study of distracted driving in the trucking industry.

A 2010 study that examined trends in distracted driving fatalities and their relation to cell phone use and texting found that, “Distracted driving is a growing public safety hazard. Specifically, the dramatic rise in texting volume since 2005 appeared to be contributing to an alarming rise in distracted driving fatalities.” 

In 2001, New York instituted the first ban on using handheld cell phones while driving.

Since then New York has:

  • Prohibited texting while driving in 2009.
  • Made texting while driving a primary offense and increased the number of driver license points for a conviction from 2 to 3 in 2011, and then from 3 to 5 for offenses committed on or after June 1, 2013.

As late as 2014 (the last year for which statistics were published), driver inattention or distraction was a factor in 19.1% of all crashes and 10.4% of all fatal crashes in New York, according to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles

Today, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 48 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico ban text messaging by drivers. Thirty-nine states and Washington, D.C., ban all cell phone use by novice drivers, while 18 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have joined New York in prohibiting all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving.

A January 2019 NHTSA report shows a peak of 6.2% of drivers using handheld cell phones in 2007 and rates falling almost yearly since.

However, if the use of hands-free phones is considered, NHTSA says a total of 5.3% of drivers are estimated to have been using either a handheld or hands-free cell phone while driving at any typical daylight moment in the U.S. in 2017.

Distracted Driving Tips for Drivers and Passengers

In the end, it is up to each of us to eliminate the threat of distracted driving. The NY Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee offers several tips to help drivers and motor vehicle passengers avoid driver distractions. They include:

  • Do not use your cell phone or any electronic device while driving. If there is an emergency, pull off of the road or into a “Texting Zone” before using your phone.
  • Avoid arguments and stressful or emotional conversations with passengers.
  • Avoid eating or grooming while driving.
  • Be sure children are properly and safely restrained.
  • Properly secure pets in a pet carrier or portable kennel.
  • Don’t create distractions for the driver.
  • Offer to navigate for the driver.
  • If you are a passenger in a car with a distracted driver, say something. Do not tolerate distracted driving.

Contact a New York Distracted Driving Lawyer

It’s good to see evidence of a decline in the use of cell phones and other electronic devices behind the wheel. But distracted driving is a persistent safety hazard in New York and across our country.

If you have been injured in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, you may have a legal right to seek compensation for your losses, including medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering. Contact a New York distracted driving car accident attorney at David Resnick & Associates, P.C., for a free evaluation of your potential claim. We’ll do everything we can to ensure that you recover the maximum compensation available under the law. Call (212) 279-2000 today or fill out our online contact form

David Resnick founded the firm in 1998 after working in large law firms where he saw a need for greater client communication and more personal care. He wanted to help everyday folks who have had the misfortune to be injured in an accident.

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