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Texas officials examining hazards of distracted driving

On November 3, researchers from the Texas Department of Transportation (TDOT) held a seminar in Austin to examine and explore the hazards inherent with something many of us see every day or might have even done ourselves: distracted driving. There is plenty of evidence to prove that this practice is dangerous, as evidenced by TDOT statistics showing more than 100,000 car crashes, nearly 500 deaths and more than 3,100 injuries caused by distracted drivers in 2015 alone.

In spite of this, Texas remains one of the few states that doesn't have a distracted driving law in place. It has been banned in some localities (namely Austin and Houston, which have passed city ordinances prohibiting it), but statewide regulation remains elusive. Several statutory measures have been proposed in recent years, but none has been successfully passed by the state legislature.

Shifting focus

What researchers and government agencies now focus on is not necessarily to prove that distracted driving is dangerous, since the statistics speak for themselves in that regard, but to better educate the public on the true scope of the problem. In addition, all drivers need to be reminded that, in spite of what they may believe, they, too, can have an accident if they drive while distracted. Past research into driving patterns and behaviors has shown that drivers routinely overestimate their ability to "multi-task" behind the wheel, leading to momentary lapses in concentration or attention that inevitably cause car accidents when traveling at highway speeds.

The term "distracted driving" has, in recent years anyway, most often been applied to texting or using cellphones, tablets and other electronic devices behind the wheel, but it actually encompasses a wide range of actions and behaviors that pull the driver's focus off the act of driving. These can include:

  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Grooming (brushing hair or teeth, putting on makeup, even shaving while driving have all been witnessed)
  • Reading (maps, GPS screens, books, newspapers, email)
  • Texting
  • Using a handheld or hands-free cellphone
  • Checking or responding to email
  • Surfing the web
  • Updating social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram
  • Taking "selfies"
  • Engaging in boisterous conversations with passengers
  • Switching music selections, particularly on an mp3 player (which usually involves looking away from the road)
  • Reaching down or behind to check on children, retrieve fallen objects or pick up a ringing phone

With a better understanding of the true hazards of distracted driving, as well as the myriad actions and behaviors that encompass the problem, it is hoped that the rate of injuries and fatalities caused by it will decrease. Only time will tell, however, if public education campaigns will be sufficient to turn the tide. In the meantime, if you - or someone you love - are unlucky enough to be injured in a distracted driving-related car accident, you do have legal rights. Contact an experienced Texas personal injury attorney for more information.

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