Texting and driving: A deadly mix

Americans sent over two billion text messages last year, and many were sent by drivers sitting behind the wheel of a car in motion, according to CTIA, a non-profit trade group that represents the wireless communications industry. This has contributed to a marked increase in distracted driving accidents.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has compiled statistics showing that in 2011, around 3,331 people were killed in distracted driving collisions - an increase from the 3,267 fatalities in 2010. According to data gathered by PennDOT in 2012, more than 14,600 Pennsylvania crashes involved a distracted driver that year, with 57 motorists dying in those crashes. Over the past five years, nearly 11 percent of Pennsylvania auto accidents involved a distracted driver, resulting in more than 300 deaths statewide.

What contributes to distracted driving?

As PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch remarked in a recent news release, "Distractions come in all forms." PennDOT generally defines distracted driving as "[a]nything that causes you to either take your attention away from driving, take your eyes off of the road or take your hands off of the wheel." Distracted driving can include:

  • Talking or texting on a cell phone
  • Eating
  • Grooming
  • Adjusting devices, such as a radio or GPS
  • Attending to children or pets
  • Conversing or otherwise interacting with passengers in the vehicle

Why is texting considered the worst distraction?

Text messaging undermines good, attentive driving in three different ways: it requires the driver to take his or her mind off the task of driving, take his or her eyes off the road and take at least one hand off the steering wheel. For that reason, it is considered the most dangerous distraction by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In a 2009 study, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that, for heavy vehicles and trucks, text messaging made the risk of a crash or a near-crash episode 23 times higher than non-distracted driving. VTTI's research also showed that the average text message requires a driver to keep his or her eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. At 55 miles per hour, this equates to driving the length of a football field blindfolded.

What has Pennsylvania done to stop texting while driving?

In November 2011, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted a law - effective March 12, 2012 - prohibiting all drivers from sending, reading or writing a text-based communication while their vehicle was in motion. According to the law, a text-based communication includes:

  • Text messages
  • Instant messages
  • Emails
  • Any other written communication composed or received on an interactive wireless communications device (i.e., wireless phone, smartphone, personal digital assistant or portable computer)

Moreover, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, during the first year of the statewide texting-while-driving ban, approximately 1,300 citations were issued in Pennsylvania, including almost 200 citations in the Pittsburgh metro area.

What if I am in an accident with a distracted driver?

As these statistics show, distracted drivers, including those who text and drive, cause a significant number of car accidents in Pennsylvania - many of which result in serious personal injuries and significant property damage. If you have been injured in an accident involving a distracted driver in Pennsylvania, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney to protect your rights.