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April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month

April marks Distracted Driving Awareness Month, where the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration encourages drivers to recognize and acknowledge the dangers of distracted driving for themselves and other drivers on the road. Distracted driving is a significant hazard on the streets and is the cause of many accidents. Still, many drivers use their phones while driving, even with increased legal consequences. All drivers need to be aware of what constitutes distracted driving, the laws regarding distracted driving, and the consequences.

What is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is anything that pulls your attention from the road. When most people think of distracted driving, they think of cell phones, specifically calling, texting, and social media use. Still, other risky actions can pull your focus, including eating and drinking, applying makeup, listening to an audio book, or even adjusting the music or GPS. By law, drivers are permitted to make emergency calls, swipe the phone to answer a call and hold the phone to their ear while driving but they are prohibited from manually entering letters, numbers, or symbols or supporting a cell phone with any part of person’s body.

However, simply because an action is legal does not mean it is smart. Many drivers who use hands-free technology or are distracted by something other than their phone are still more likely to cause or be involved in a traffic accident due to significantly decreased reaction time. While phones are the biggest offenders, drivers should always be aware of the types of activities that distract them while driving.

Consequences of Distracted Driving

There are two categories when it comes to the consequences of distracted driving. The first is the legal consequences. If you are cited for distracted driving, you can face legal consequences, including fines.

As of April 2023, distracted driving is now a primary traffic offense in Ohio, meaning that a driver can be pulled over and cited solely for engaging in an activity that is defined as “distracted driving”. Previously this was regarded as a secondary offense, which could not form the basis of a stop, but for which a driver would receive a citation if they were pulled over for another traffic violation. The new law punishes first time offenders with a mandatory $150 fine and two points on their license, but the fine and points can be waived by completing a distracted driving course. There are increased penalties for repeat offenders, going up to a $500 fine and four points, along with a possible 90-day driver’s license suspension, for a third offense in two years.

Businessman using cell phone and texting while driving not paying attention to the road. Dangerous texting and driving at the same time

More notably, distracted driving can be deadly, and can form the basis for punitive damage awards in civil cases for catastrophic injuries or wrongful deaths. This is due in large measure to available statistics. According to NHTSA, distracted driving killed over 3,500 people in 2021 and is the fifth-highest cause of traffic accidents, even higher than accidents caused by those under the influence of alcohol. While many drivers underestimate the impact of distracted driving on their reaction time and driving performance, thinking they can multitask and manage their distractions safely. However, studies have proven that this is simply not the case. A few seconds of decreased reaction time can be enough for severe consequences. Because of this, juries feel empowered to impose civil penalties to make up for the harm caused.

Take Action Against Distracted Driving

The first step to taking action against distracted driving is to commit to focusing on the road as your number one – and only – priority when driving. This includes:

  • Pulling over when you need to send a text or answer a message.
  • Designate a passenger in the car as your proxy to respond to calls or messages.
  • If you struggle with the temptation to look at your phone, put your phone in the trunk, glove box, or backseat while driving.
  • Enable the “do not disturb” feature on your phone so that you can still use your device for navigation, music, or podcasts, but calls, messages, and other notifications will be silenced during your time in the car. Ensure that your phone is mounted or that you are using CarPlay or a similar service for your navigation system so you are not distracted by holding your phone. Voice commands can help you control your device without the need to touch the screen (though be aware, that this activity is still a distraction).
  • If you are a passenger and the driver is distracted, speak up and tell him or her to stop and focus on the road. Offer to perform whatever task distracts them, such as sending a text or typing an address into GPS.
  • In addition to putting your phone away, ensure you are not attempting other “multitasking” activities while driving, such as applying makeup, looking for objects in the glove box or center console, or eating. If a task is genuinely urgent and you can’t wait until you arrive at your destination, pull over at a safe location so you can complete what needs to be done, and then put your full attention back on the road.

Distracted Driving Awareness Month is designed to remind drivers of what they all should already know – distracted driving has serious and sometimes tragic consequences. There is nothing that can’t wait or is as important as operating safely on the roads. The increase in fines, points, and outcomes for repeat offenders has reduced the citations for distracted drivers since the new law in Ohio was implemented a year ago. However, it is still vital for all drivers to be aware of the risks of distracted driving.

As April draws attention to the critical issue of distracted driving, Arthur Law Firm urges you to take action to help combat this pervasive danger on our roads. With distracted driving claiming thousands of lives annually and leading to severe legal and personal consequences, it’s imperative to prioritize road safety above all else.

Commit today to focus solely on driving, whether by utilizing hands-free technology, setting phone distractions aside, or designating a passenger to manage communications. Let’s make every journey safe by eliminating distractions and keeping our attention where it belongs – on the road. Don’t wait for the devastating effects of distracted driving to impact your life – join us in making our streets safer for everyone.  If you’ve been injured in a car accident that you feel was caused by a distracted driver, contact us right away (419) 782-9881 for a free consultation to discuss your case.