Distracted driving is one of the most preventable causes of car accidents, yet nine people lose their lives each day in the United States in accidents involving a distracted driver. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,142 people passed away in accidents caused by distracted driving in recent years. The actual number of distracted driving crash deaths may prove even higher, as police may not always initially identify distracted driving as the cause of a crash. For more information, reach out to a car accident lawyer.
Inattentive driving often poses a problem for everyone who shares the road. Motor vehicle drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians face risks when someone chooses to operate a vehicle while distracted. States like Georgia are cracking down on distracted driving and even teaming up to stop it, as noted by WTOC-TV.
What Is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving refers to operating a motor vehicle while engaging in an activity that prevents you from driving attentively. While legislation and government campaigns focus largely on cell phone use, distracted driving comes in many forms.
For instance, Georgia’s law on distracted driving says that anything diverting a driver’s attention away from safe driving is illegal. This could include responding to text messages, typing in the name of a song on a phone music app, or even eating while driving.
Types of Driving Distractions
The three primary types of distractions include cognitive, manual, and visual distractions.
Cognitive distractions refer to things that take your mind off the road and cause you to think about something else.
Typical cognitive distractions include:
- Wandering thoughts
- Thinking about arguments
- Loud sounds inside or outside the vehicle
- Being engrossed in audio
Anything that causes you to touch something within the vehicle and remove one or both hands from the wheel makes for a manual distraction. Many people multitask while driving to get more done before reaching their destination.
Examples of manual distractions include:
- Texting, holding, or manipulating a cell phone
- Eating or drinking
- Changing the radio station
- Adjusting climate controls or other devices within the vehicle
- Applying makeup
- Grooming/personal hygiene
- Reaching for items on the floor, front passenger seat, back seat, or in the glove compartment
- Writing things down
Visual distractions take your eyes off the road to look at something else.
Common visual distractions include:
- Looking at a cell phone screen or watching a video on the phone
- Reading or typing text messages, emails, or notes
- Looking at things outside the vehicle, such as an object, person, or event,
- Turning to speak to a passenger
- Looking for missing items
- Glancing at nobs and controls
- Looking in the mirror
The three categories of distraction often overlap. A visual distraction can also become a cognitive distraction. A manual distraction can also be a visual distraction and/or a cognitive distraction.
For example, a woman applying eyeliner while driving may also look in the mirror and concentrate on steadying her hand, so she doesn’t poke herself in the eye. A man searching for his glasses may probe the floor with his hand while thinking about where they fell. It’s possible to have multiple distractions at once.
Drivers and Cell Phone Usage in the United States
A recent NHTSA survey reveals that 2.6 percent of drivers use their hands to operate electronic devices while driving. The same study showed that 2.8 percent of drivers were seen visibly manipulating their phones. The manipulation of cell phones often proves highest among drivers ages 16-24.
Texting Increases the Risk of Crashing
Cell phone use, particularly texting or manipulating a phone while driving, can often prove especially dangerous. Mobile phone use can readily lead to an increased risk of crashing. Texting takes your eyes off the road for a frightening five seconds. It’s akin to driving with your eyes closed, which most drivers would never intentionally do.
Research indicates that the risk of crashing increases by two to six times when drivers manipulate a cell phone compared to when they drive undistracted, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The risks of a crash were highest for drivers under 30 and over 64.
Interestingly, studies show that people who use mobile phones while driving may be riskier drivers. A study published in Accident Analysis & Prevention reveals that the drivers who spent the most time on their phones also had the highest rates of accidents or close calls.
Drivers who frequently use their cell phones tend to engage in the following behaviors more than those who reported rarely using a phone while driving:
- Driving faster
- Changing lanes
- Hard braking
How Cell Phone Use Affects Driving
Cognitive distractions often affect driver performance. Reaction times can slow significantly when drivers read or type text messages. In addition, drivers tend to look away from the road longer and experience more lane deviations (such as swerving or drifting to one side or the other).
Even when a driver’s eyes remain fixed on the road while carrying on a cell phone conversation, this action hinders their attention and ability to visually process information. Some experts refer to this temporary condition as inattentional blindness, according to the American Psychological Association. While distracted, a driver cannot process or comprehend what’s in front of them even when they’re looking right at it.
Distracted Driving Is Illegal in Georgia
Georgia takes distracted driving very seriously. Clear laws tell drivers that they face consequences for the inattentive operation of a motor vehicle. As mentioned previously, drivers in the state must demonstrate care while driving and avoid taking any action that diverts their attention from safely driving, per Georgia law. Police can cite drivers for any behavior they deem distracting. Using handheld cell phone devices often tops their list.
Georgia Hands-Free Act Bans Cell Phone Use While Driving
Cell phone use all too easily distracts drivers. Perhaps that’s why Georgia passed the Hands-Free Georgia Act a few years ago. The law bans the handheld use of cell phones but permits the use of cell phones through hands-free technology, such as Bluetooth.
You can speak on the phone as long as you do not touch it, or you must only need to press one button to begin a call.
Some permitted options for hands-free communication are:
- An earpiece
- Bluetooth technology (through your vehicle’s audio system or wearable earpiece)
The specific actions prohibited by the act include:
- Holding or touching a mobile phone with any part of your body
- Typing, sending, or reading any text messages, emails, notes, or any other text-based communication, including social media
- Watching movies or videos
- Recording or broadcasting video
The above limitations apply to mobile phones in addition to any other type of wireless telecommunications device or standalone electronic device like a tablet, media player, or smartwatch.
Exceptions to Georgia’s Hands-Free Act
There are some exceptions to Georgia’s Hands-Free Act.
Certain people may use cell phones in certain situations, such as:
- A first responder performing official duties, including police, ambulance drivers, firefighters, or EMS personnel
- Employees and contractors using the device for job-related purposes while working for a utility service provider and responding to an emergency
- Anyone reporting an emergency to the authorities, such as a medical emergency, criminal act, or fire hazard
- A person in a legally parked vehicle
Additionally, Georgia law permits these cell phone behaviors:
- Dashboard camera video used for continuous video recording inside or outside the vehicle
- Mobile phones used for the purpose of navigation through GPS software such as Google Maps
- Streaming pre-programmed music through apps as long as you can control them via the vehicle’s stereo system
Commercial Vehicle Drivers
Laws for commercial vehicle driving and cell phone use stipulate that commercial vehicle drivers:
- Can only use one button to start or end a call
- Cannot reach for a phone or other telecommunications or electronic device in a way that causes them to no longer remain seated or restrained by their seatbelt
School Bus Drivers
The law in Georgia:
- Prohibits school bus drivers from using a wireless communication device or two-way radio while loading and unloading passengers
- Allows school bus drivers to use a wireless telecommunications device as a two-way radio while operating the bus for communication with the school or public safety officials
What Penalties Exist for Distracted Driving in Georgia?
Since distracted driving is against the law in Georgia, law enforcement can cite those violating the law with a misdemeanor if convicted.
The most frequently cited legal code in distracted driving convictions in Georgia is the unlawful use of wireless devices. When it comes to convictions after a traffic accident, the most commonly used legal code is failure to exercise due care/careless driving.
Penalties for violating the Hands-Free Act include:
- First conviction: $50 fine and one point on your driver’s license
- Second conviction: $100 fine and two points on your driver’s licenses
- Third conviction: $150 fine and three points on your driver’s license
A first-time offender can have the charges dropped if he or she can prove to the court that they purchased hands-free technology that allows them to comply with the law.
The penalties can prove greater if your distracted driving contributes to a car accident involving serious injuries or fatalities.
Role of Distracted Driving in Georgia Car Accidents
Statistics released by the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety reveal that:
- 56 percent of all vehicle accidents in Georgia had at least one confirmed or suspected distracted driver.
- 68 percent of all drivers in single-vehicle crashes were distracted.
- 53 percent of all drivers in multi-vehicle crashes were distracted.
- 46 percent of all serious injury crashes involved at least one confirmed or suspected distracted driver.
Drivers Ages 25 to 34 Years Old Are the Most Distracted in Georgia
Drivers ages 25 to 34 years old generally prove to be the most distracted group on the roads. Drivers in this group received more citations for distracted driving and more distracted driving convictions than any other age group of licensed drivers in Georgia.
Specifically, drivers in this age group represented:
- 24 percent of all suspected or confirmed distracted drivers in car crashes
- 23 percent of all confirmed distracted drivers involved in fatal accidents
- 27 percent of all drivers receive a distracted driver citation following a crash and
- 33 percent of all distracted driving convictions
Distracted Driving and Liability in Car Accidents
Given that distracted driving violates the laws of Georgia, a distracted driver who causes a car accident could bear partial or total liability for damages suffered in the crash, even their own. That also means your compensation from another at-fault party can get reduced in a car accident claim. Your MedPay benefits are a separate matter, however.
Distracted Driving May Increase Your Insurance Cost
In addition to potential citations, misdemeanor convictions, fines, points on your license, and liability for car accident damages, a distracted driver in Georgia may also face increased insurance premiums. Once your insurer finds out about your offenses, you may see an increase in your rates.
Criminal convictions for moving violations and causing car accidents make you a bigger risk to the insurance company. With a poor driving record, the insurer will have concerns that your presence on the road may result in them paying out claims for the damage your distracted driving causes. The greater the risk, the more money you’ll pay for coverage.
Tips for Handling a Distracted Driving Accident
If you’re in a distracted driving accident, follow these quick tips:
- Stay at the scene. Leaving a crash scene constitutes a crime. If you’re the at-fault driver, this adds insult to injury.
- Help anyone who’s hurt. You must do so under Georgia law.
- Call 9-1-1. Get help from police and emergency medical services for those injured. Police create a crash report that you will need later in a car accident claim.
- Stick to the facts and don’t admit fault. Maybe you caused the accident; maybe you didn’t. Admitting fault hurts your chances of recovering compensation, and worse—it may lead to a distracted driving conviction if you caused the crash.
- Call a lawyer. Depending on the circumstances of the accident and your role in it, you may need a defense attorney, an injury lawyer, or both. A lawyer can help you navigate the insurance claims process or avoid a conviction. The right lawyer can do both.
You Can Prevent Distracted Driving
Though seemingly minor, distracted driving is no joke—especially in Georgia. It regularly causes highly avoidable accidents, serious injuries, and preventable deaths. When you’re out on the road, remember what’s at stake. Keep your mind clear, your eyes on the road, and your phone out of your hands.
On the other hand, you cannot always avoid an accident. If a distracted driver causes your crash, you could seek compensation.
For more information, reach out to a car accident attorney.