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Distracted Driving FAQs: Here’s What To Know

April 19, 2022 by Steven M. Gursten

Distracted driving includes anything that takes away a driver’s focus and attention from the road. Distractions most often today involve drivers using a cell phone, whether that involves texting, talking, streaming, or even using apps while driving. It is a widespread danger that is unfortunately getting worse every year.

Car crashes where the driver’s focus and attention was being diverted from the road by cell phone use in Michigan increased approximately 27% overall between 2016 and 2020. During that same period, fatal auto accidents that included this driving behavior (i.e., where a driver was using a cell phone) in Michigan increased approximately 88%.

As a car accident lawyer, I would say these numbers are probably much lower than what the true numbers actually are today. It is still rare for police to do cellphone downloads (unless there is a fatal on a state highway), so the numbers above also depend on drivers volunteering that they were using their cell phones when they caused a crash to police.

We offer these FAQs to help you and your family stay safe.

To learn more, please check out this video:

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving occurs when a driver engages in an activity that takes their focus away from driving carefully and safely. NHTSA defines it as “any activity that diverts . . . your attention away from the task of safe driving.”

Examples

Examples include: (1) texting; (2) using the phone; (3) talking on the phone; (4) talking to passengers in your vehicle; (5) surfing the internet; (6) using social media; (7) watching videos; (8) looking at images; (9) using FaceTime or Zoom; (10) using GPS or devices like Waze; and (11) eating or drinking.

Why is this driving behavior dangerous?

Distracted driving is so dangerous because it takes drivers’ attention and eyes away from driving and effectively blinds them to what is happening on the road. Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash and drivers dialing a hand-held cell phone are 12 times more likely to crash.

Research has shown that texting while driving takes the drivers’ eyes and attention away from the road for 4.6 seconds. If the driver is traveling at 55 mph, then he or she will have driven while effectively “blindfolded” the entire length of a football field from end zone to end zone during those 4.6 seconds.

How is distracted driving different from inattentive driving?

Distracted driving includes inattentive driving. A text message or a cell phone call may cause a driver’s attention to be diverted from driving and, thus, fail to use reasonable care behind the wheel. But it can can include anything, from eating in a car to applying makeup to even talking and looking at a passenger or for a street sign.

How long has this driving behavior been a problem?

This driving behavior has always been a problem and has existed for as long as people have been driving. As the dangers became more apparent, state legislatures began passing laws banning driving behavior that involved cell phone use and texting in the early 2000’s. In 2001, New York state banned cell phone use by drivers. In 2007, Washington banned texting.

In 2010, Michigan enacted its ban on texting while driving, which applies to all drivers. However, Michigan’s ban on cell phone use while driving only applies to teen drivers, truck drivers and school bus drivers.

What causes distracted driving?

There are many behaviors that cause a driver’s attention to be diverted from driving: (1) texting; (2) using a cell phone; (3) talking on the phone; (4) talking with passengers; (5) looking at videos or photos or anything else on the phone while the car is moving; (6) adjusting the radio; (7) reaching for something on the floor or backseat; and/or (8) it can even include daydreaming or being lost in thought.

How much is the fine for distracted driving?

In Michigan, the fine for distracted driving in the form of texting while driving or for using a cell phone while driving (if you are a teen driver, truck driver or school bus driver) is $100 for the first violation and $200 for subsequent violations. (MCL 257.602b(6)(a) and (b))

What is the penalty for distracted driving?

The penalty for distracted driving in Michigan that includes texting while driving or for using a cell phone while driving (if you are a teen driver, truck driver or school bus driver) is a “civil infraction.” (MCL 257.602b(6); 257.602c(4))

A texting driver who is not a truck driver or a school bus driver will incur no points on his or her driver’s license. (MCL 257.320a(2))

However, the penalty for this driving behavior becomes drastically more severe if it results in someone being killed or injured or property being damaged:

Specifically, the law provides the following penalties depending on the type of crash:

  • A texting driver who causes “the death of another person” is guilty of a misdemeanor and could be sent to jail for a year and/or ordered to pay a fine of $2,000. (MCL 257.601d(1))
  • A texting driver who causes “serious impairment of a body function to another person” is guilty of a misdemeanor and could be sent to jail for up to 93 day and/or ordered to pay a fine of $500. (MCL 257.601d(2))
  • A texting driver who causes “an at-fault collision with another vehicle, a person, or any other object” will get “4 points” on his or her driver’s license. (MCL 257.320a(1)(l))

A teen driver with a Level 1 or Level 2 graduated licensing status who texts while driving or uses a cell phone while driving could have his or her driving restrictions under the graduated licensing system extended. (MCL 257.310e(7))

What is the leading cause of people diverting their attention off from driving?

There were 14,326 crashes in Michigan in 2020 where the driver’s attention was being diverted from driving. “Other activity inside vehicle” was the distraction in 5,027 car accidents. “Activity outside vehicle” was the distraction in 4,628 others. The distraction was a “communication device” that involved texting, typing or dialing in 1,821 car crashes.

Also, there were 1,582 auto accidents where the driver’s attention was being diverted from driving by an “electronic device.”

How many states have distracted driving laws?

Texting while driving is banned for all drivers in 48 states, but only 24 states prohibit hand-held cell phone use by all drivers. D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban both texting and driving and cell phone use.

Were you injured in a car accident while the driver’s attention was being diverted? Call a Michigan Auto Law attorney about your case

If you have suffered a personal injury in a distracted driving car accident and you would like to speak with an experienced injury attorney, call toll free anytime 24/7 at (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation with one of our car accident attorneys. You can also get help from an experienced auto accident attorney by visiting our contact page or you can use the chat feature on our website. Steven Gursten is the current President of the American Association for Justice Distracted Driving Litigation Group and lectures and teaches auto accident attorneys throughout the nation on this topic and how to obtain evidence of this behavior in their own car accident cases. Steve has spoken at national lectures, seminars, conferences and webinars on this subject and how attorneys can find evidence and discovery. Also, Steve speaks to high school students and parent groups throughout Michigan as part of Joel Feldman’s End Distracted Driving Campaign school and parent presentations.

(Source: Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, Fact Sheets, “Cell Phone Use,” 2020; NHTSA website; Michigan Traffic Crash Facts Search Query Tool and “Driver Distraction (2016+)”; Governors Highway Safety Association, Driving State Laws; Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS))

Distracted Driving FAQs: Here\'s What To Know

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