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We can reduce texting and driving accidents in 2018

January 8, 2018 by Steven M. Gursten

There has been a sharp spike in texting and driving accidents and fatalities, but we can do so much more to stop the needless climb in car accident-related fatalities and injuries caused by distracted driving

Much more can be done to reduce texting and driving accidentsMuch more can be done to reduce texting and driving accidents
Michigan Auto Law Attorney Brandon Hewitt shares real examples of texting and driving accidents with Grand Rapids students at Byron Center

We can make 2018 the year that we finally succeed in reducing the number of texting and driving accidents in the U.S.

We need to be serious, committed and aware.

My friend, respected lawyer, and safety advocate, Joel Feldman, who is the founder of the Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation and EndDD.org, thinks so, too.  [Disclosure: Joel is the current Chair of the American Association for Justice Distracted Driving Litigation Group, and I am also a member of this group.]

In Joel’s  recent column for the Huffington Post, “Working to Change America’s Distracted Driving Statistics in 2018,” Joel said:

“[W]hy am I optimistic that we can stem the tide and reduce distracted driving statistics nationwide? Because there are signs that we may have already begun to change the way we look at distracted driving.”

Lawyers can play important role in spreading awareness of texting and driving accidents

To be sure, my own optimism is not boundless because a significant number of my own cases that I work on as a car accident lawyer involve distracted driving and texting. I know there’s still a long way to go. Even as most people view texting and driving as a serious threat to their own safety, drivers remain stubbornly hypocritical about their own texting and driving when they are behind the wheel.

There seems to be a perception that texting and driving is only dangerous when other people are doing it.

But some of the changes that Joel is calling for involve many of the same issues that I’ve been blogging about consistently:

  • People need to view the texting and distracted driver as being as socially unacceptable as the drunk driver.
  • People need to more fully understand the dangers and consequences of distracted driving.
  • People need to speak out to family, friends and co-workers to discourage them from driving while texting and/or distracted.

Educating future drivers about the dangers of texting and driving accidents begins before they start to drive

Later this month, I’ll be speaking to the parents at Cranbrook about the dangers of distracted driving. In the past several years, our lawyers have spoken to students at high schools across Michigan about the dangers of texting and driving. We are slowly seeing a shift in attitudes and awareness, and Joel Feldman and his efforts on behalf and through EndDD have helped put auto accident lawyers such as myself in hundreds of American high schools to help educate people about just how dangerous distracted driving can be.

By focusing on safety and focusing our attention on the road and not our phones, we can reduce these grim statistics that Joel highlighted in his Huffington Post column:

  • “There are now nearly 4,000 distracted driving-related deaths each year.”
  • “More than ten of us are killed and 1,000 are injured every day in the U.S. as a result of distracted driving.”
  • “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2015 fatalities attributable to distracted driving increased on a percentage basis faster than those caused by drunk driving, speeding, or failing to wear seat belts.”
  • AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety notes that more than 50 percent of serious teen crashes are now believed to be caused by distractions.”

Texting and driving accidents should be treated the same as drunk driving accidents

The science is clear: Texting while driving is as dangerous as drunk driving – if not more so.

If the threat to our families is nearly identical, then the same severe penalties that await drunk drivers should also be in store for distracted and texting drivers when they cause car accidents that kill and seriously injure innocent people on our roads.

As I noted in my blog post, “It’s time to start treating texting drivers like drunk drivers”:

“[W]e can learn a lot [from] how society evolved to changing how it perceived – and tolerated – drunk driving. As punishments increased and as jail time was implemented for drunk drivers, the problem shrank. We can learn from this. We can increase the sanctions for texting while driving in Michigan, and we’ve got plenty of room for improvement.”

What is the relationship between distracted driving and texting and driving accidents?

How dangerous is texting while driving?

I’ll answer that question with another question: How dangerous do you think it’d be to drive the length of a football field – on a public road at 55 mph – while blindfolded?

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has also concluded that: “Text messaging made the risk of crash or near-crash event 23.2 times as high as non-distracted driving.”

How can speaking out help reduce the number of texting and driving accidents?

To be a good citizen, each one of us needs to look for each other.

That means we need to speak out – and speak up – when we see someone doing something dangerous to themselves and to others. That’s a huge part of what I’ll be talking about at Cranbrook later this month. It gets us nowhere to tell our children not to text and drive if they see us doing it when we are driving. It does no good to tell our children how dangerous texting and driving is if we don’t teach them and empower them on how to speak up when they are in the car with someone who chooses to drive distracted.

As a parent, you have to own and admit the mistakes you have made previously when you were driving distracted to your children as the only way to establish credible honesty as the messenger so that you can reach them and so they will accept the message. It’s not any different from a lawyer who is picking a jury and starts voir dire admitting a type of case that he or she would not be well suited to sit on as a juror as a way to establish honesty so that others can open up as well.

Educate to deter texting and driving accidents, and hold drivers accountable after a car accident has occurred

I’ve spent the majority of this blog talking about what we can do to stop a car crash from occurring, but there are things we can do after a texting and driving accident has occurred that will also help make people aware of just how dangerous this is. The analogy here to the increased punishment that drunk drivers began to receive in the 80s, largely through the efforts of organizations like MADD, are very apt.

A small fine is not going to deter someone from texting and driving, especially when very few tickets are issued each year in Michigan (even though it is a primary offense).

Letting people know that they can lose their jobs, spend time in jail, and that the employers they work for can face significant civil penalties if they are texting and driving during the course and scope of their employment, will be more effective.

I’ve spoken out about the need for businesses (and individuals) to implement policies that prevent bosses, employers and fellow employees from texting their colleagues – when the former knows that the latter is behind the wheel and likely to read and respond to the text.

Our lawyers will continue our ongoing policy of going out into the community to educate drivers, especially our younger drivers (i.e., teen drivers), about, not only the dangers of texting and driving, but also the fact that “[d]istracted driving accidents can happen to you.”

[Community Guidelines]

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