Distracted Driving Defined

Distractions are everywhere on roads and highways from Hyannis to New Bedford, Plymouth to Falmouth, and no drivers behind the wheel of a car or truck are immune.

A beautiful deer stands at the berm along Route 3 and a driver takes her eye off the road for a mere two seconds to admire the animal’s beauty.

A trucker new to the Cape Cod area notices the iron beams that straddle the span of the Sagamore Bridge leading to Cape Cod and for several moments his mind is more occupied by its beauty, rather than keeping his thoughts wholly dedicated to the wheel of his semi. A working mother rushes to work along Route 28 in Falmouth and since she had missed breakfast, she wolfs down a muffin while balancing a cup of take-out coffee. A 17-year-old male from Barnstable, late for his school’s football game, texts his friends while driving on Route 132 in Hyannis and he barely notices the accelerator climbing over the speed limit.

In all these scenarios a thought ‘steered’ a driver’s attention and that’s the definition of distracted driving. And the granddaddy of distracted driving is texting.

Steering with one hand and holding a mobile phone with the other is a close second. Drinking and eating, talking to other people in the car, grooming oneself, trying to follow a map or navigation system, and even adjusting radios, CD players and videos are leading causes of distracted driving, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA.)

Here in Massachusetts, no fewer than nine pieces of legislation dealing with distracted drivers funneled through Beacon Hill in 2013. Even though most bills failed to pass, this time anyway, local and state police departments continue to crack down on distracted drivers. But the Baystate does have one effective law on the books: the Safe Driving Law that went into effect in September 2010.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, sending or receiving a text while driving will earn you a fine of $100 and a 60-day license suspension for the first offense, and the fines ripen and increase for second and third offenses. Judging what my sources on Beacon Hill are noting on this issue, it is very likely additional legislation will be offered to stem the tide of distracted driving, with steep legal implications for offenders.

In 2012 alone, the last year for which federal statistics are available, 3,328 individuals were killed in “distraction-affected crashes” in the United States, according to the NHTSA. A staggering number of humans were injured in accidents involving a distracted driver: 421,000. Let’s break these figures down further. According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI:) “Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.” And here’s another, 20% of teenagers have admitted texting while driving, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI,) and those are not simple texts but “Extended, multi-message text conversations.”

Distracted drivers come in all shapes and sizes, age, gender and socio-economic background. I often caution my clients who have been injured in an accident caused by a distracted driver is all it takes is a second for a preoccupied motorist to unknowingly convert a convenient mode of transportation into a reliable weapon.

Bottom line: it’s a privilege to drive, not a right. And anytime you’re behind the wheel of a car or truck you hold not only the lives of loved ones, but strangers, in your hands.

But if the worse happens, and you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident, I strongly encourage you to reach out to me. I’ve been protecting the injured and their families for over 29 years on Cape Cod and throughout Southeastern Massachusetts. For a free consultation, please call my office at 800-446-4485 or email me at moffalaw.com. As always, we are available 24/7 to help you.

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