Distracted Driver Awareness Month ended last month, but the problem remains. Driver error causes 90 percent of motor vehicle accidents (“mva”)—with 26 percent of crashes blamed on cell phone use, according to National Safety Council statistics.
Massachusetts law bans texting while driving, one of 41 states, along with the District of Columbia, to do so. Under Mass. G.L. c. 90, §13, a first violation imposes $100 fine, while second- and third-offenders receive $250 and $500 penalties, respectively. A recent N.J. appellate court decision found liability could even be imposed on someone who triggers a mva by texting a driver. No state prohibits talking on cell phones while driving.
A 2011 federal traffic safety study attributed 3,300 fatalities and 387,000 injuries that year to collisions caused by distracted drivers. A 2003 study by Harvard University estimated 2,600 fatalities annually were caused by inattentive drivers talking on cell phones. A driver using a cell phone is four times as likely to cause an accident as other drivers, and has the same odds of causing a crash as an impaired driver with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent, according to a recent New York Times article.
Despite this burgeoning problem, a just-released survey by Plymouth Rock Assurance involving 3,300 New England drivers found more than half the respondents observed a driver texting behind the wheel, and in 40 percent of those instances, the texting driver had a child passenger.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posters admonish: “Eyes on road, hands on wheel, mind on driving.” Eating, personal grooming, setting a GPS, tuning a radio station, playing with a family pet or a child, or simply allowing your mind to wander endangers others.
Nationally, roughly 170 bills have been introduced to address the distracted driving epidemic, but fewer than 10 have passed. A handful of states mandate hands-free devices for in-vehicle cell phone use.
Amica Insurance offers drivers the following tips to overcome distracting driving:
- Don’t multitask by eating, smoking or reading while operating a motor vehicle;
- Keep the cell phone off or in silent mode, and pull over to the side of the road if you have to make a call;
- Set your GPS before heading out on a trip; and
- Ensure kids and pets are secure before beginning to drive, rather than grapple with safety belts while in motion.