GHSA meeting attendees: why enforcing distracted driving laws is so hard

By now, distracted driving has received enough media attention in Orange County, California, and throughout the country that most drivers understand the dangers. Even a few seconds of inattention can lead to serious injuries or fatalities. Unfortunately, many drivers persist in behaviors that they know to be unsafe. This may in part be because, unlike some illegal driving behaviors, distracted driving can be incredibly difficult for authorities to catch and prove - at least, until it causes an accident.

The facts about distracted driving

Distracted driving remains disturbingly widespread. The government website Distraction.gov reports that, at any given second, there are 660,000 drivers on the road using an electronic device. California's own Office of Traffic Safety reports the following facts on its website:

  • Nationally, as many as 6,000 people die each year in distracted driving crashes.
  • Some form of driver distraction contributes to four out of every five crashes.
  • Texting or talking on a cell phone is the most common distraction.
  • On average, people have less than 3 seconds to react and avoid an accident.
  • On average, people look down for 5 seconds when they are texting and driving.
  • If a driver does this while traveling 55 mph, he or she will travel 100 yards blind, greatly increasing the risk of a serious accident.

These statistics are troubling, yet every moment, there are estimated to be hundreds of thousands of people who are ignoring them and endangering their fellow drivers. One possible reason is that people need an additional deterrent against texting and driving. Laws against texting in many states, including California, have tried to provide this, but they may not influence people enough because they are simply too tough to enforce.

The difficulties of stopping distracted drivers

Following the annual Governors Highway Safety Association meeting in San Diego this August, a few law enforcement officials spoke out on why it can be difficult to catch distracted drivers and send a message to others. The Huffington Post recorded some of their comments.

California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow described one substantial challenge. Before issuing a ticket, California officers must actually be able to see that the driver is using the cell phone to send a message, rather than for another function. It is obviously difficult for an officer to do this, and a Phoenix police officer explained that even when tickets are issued, people may fight them later by claiming they were using their phone for something besides texting.

The Huffington Post reports that, at least in California, that distinction is beginning to matter less. A driver tried to escape a ticket earlier this year by saying that he was using a map app on his phone, prompting the court to rule that it is still illegal to use a phone that isn't hands-free while driving; the exact way that the phone is being used is irrelevant.

This clarification may make it easier for authority figures to ticket negligent drivers, but it won't prevent every distracted driving accident. If you or someone you love has been hurt because of a careless distracted driver, you should talk with an experienced lawyer about seeking the compensation that you deserve.