Tag Archives: distracted driving

One Text or Call Could Wreck It All

As part of a nationwide effort to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving and to help teens (and everyone) make safer driving decisions, I and other attorneys from MichieHamlett have been making safety presentations to schools in the area for the past several years.

Teens, who are inexperienced drivers and often passengers in cars being driven by other inexperienced drivers, are particularly at risk. Traffic crashes are now the leading cause of death for this age group. The vast majority of teen crashes are caused by some type of driver distractions. As a trial attorney with nearly 15 years of practice, I have personally seen many senseless traffic tragedies involving teens and how these tragedies devastate families and communities.  And, as you know, many adults are guilty of distracted driving, which further subjects our children, and us, to danger on the road.

Most people don’t know that distracted driving was the 2009 word of the year chosen by Webster’s Dictionary. Unfortunately, this is no passing fad. Distracted driving has become a trend with deadly, real consequences.

Why do so many people participate in this dangerous behavior? With more technology now than ever, driver distractions have risen to unprecedented levels. We live in a world where people expect instant, real-time information 24 hours a day and those desires don’t stop just because they get behind the wheel. Drivers simply do not realize – or choose to ignore – the danger they create when they take their eyes off the road, their hands off the wheel, and their focus off driving.

For those who think they can do two things at once, think about this: According to a study by Carnegie Mellon, driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. Can you really afford to lose that much brainpower? It is effectively equivalent to driving under the influence of alcohol. Driving is an activity that requires your full attention and focus in order to keep yourself and others safe.

This is a national problem. No one is immune from the dangers of distracted driving. So please remember: One text or call could wreck it all.

Ten Tips on How to Stop Driving Distracted:

  • Turn off your phone when you get in your car.
  • When you’re in the car, put your phone where you can’t get to it, like the trunk or glove box.
  • Turn your phone notifications off. The less you hear your phone, the less tempted you’ll be to reach for it while you’re driving.
  • Designate a texter. Borrow the thumbs of a friend. Or lend yours to a friend. Passengers get the privilege of texting while in motion.
  • If you need to contact someone, pull over to a safe location and put your vehicle in park.
  • Change your voicemail greeting to indicate you are driving and will call back when safely parked.
  • If you are a passenger and the driver wants to use a cell phone, tell the driver you are uncomfortable with his or her cell phone use.
  • If you are talking to someone who is driving, ask the person to call you when he or she is parked in a safe location or tell the person you’ll call back later.
  • Concentrate on your driving and don’t use your drive time as your down time to catch up on other things.
  • Recognize activities that distract you and make an effort to eliminate them.

Texting and Driving – Virginia May Finally Get Tougher

My law firm, MichieHamlett, does a lot to spread the word about the dangers of texting and driving.  My colleagues Greg Webb, Kyle McNew and I have made many presentations to high schools and civic groups to educate kids and adults about the incredible risks created by distracted driving.  Research is showing that distracted driving can be more dangerous than drunk driving.

Just like it took a long time for society to respond appropriately to drinking and driving, we are finally beginning to increase penalties for texting while driving.  After many years of inadequate action, both houses of the Virginia General Assembly have finally passed legislation that makes texting while driving a primary offense (meaning that law enforcement can stop drivers based on that charge alone) and increased the fine from $20 to a meaningful $250 for first offense, $500 for second offense.  Hopefully, Governor McDonald will sign this law and Virginia will take a needed step in preventing this deadly practice.

Let’s Talk About Kids and Cars – Are you Distracted?

Recently when I drove my car into the parking lot of a grocery store and parked, I noticed a car across from mine where a woman was standing and talking on her cell phone. I couldn’t help but observe the scenario that was playing out in front of me–a serious safety challenge for a distracted caregiver was about to unfold! A young woman stood with an empty shopping cart talking on her cell phone, with her back to the open door of her 4-door sedan. Perhaps she had been interrupted by a phone call before helping her children get out of the car and into the cart. There were two young children in the car and from the way they moved in and around the back seat of the vehicle, I concluded they were not restrained by any kind of booster seat. I wondered how long the woman had been on the phone, and how long it would take for at least one of the children to find a way out of the car. Cars and pick-up trucks were entering and exiting the parking lot as the woman continued with the phone conversation without turning around to watch the children in her car–and in her care. I have to admit I was getting concerned.

As all parents come to realize, kids are nothing short of resourceful. It was no surprise finally that one young child was out of the breech and was playfully looking for a place to hide underneath a neighboring parked car. Fortunately, a male passerby loudly called the woman’s attention to the fact that one youngster was out of the car and the other one was about to follow. She was aghast–I will never forget the look of realization on the woman’s face at what could have happened. Once retrieved, the child was bundled back into the car with a “good-talking to,” and both children were remanded to the back seat (still no booster seat that I observed), the woman abandoned her cart and drove from the parking lot. The incident lasted maybe five minutes, and it could have ended in heartbreak. Thankfully, it did not.

That’s when I began to think seriously about the issue of distracted driving–and parking–especially about how parents can lose track of a child they are taking to daycare on their way to work, or how we, parents and caregivers, become so involved in what we are doing that we forget about the kids we are transporting. Yes, there are demands on our time, and yes, we are involved in careers, children’s school activities and other pursuits–and we are often our family’s regular or substitute chauffeurs. Lapses of attention and memory do occur and we get so committed to our routines that we may seem to be doing things by rote–but what can we do to prevent being distracted when we have children to whom we need to pay attention?

There are things we can do to remind ourselves that there are children in the backseat (even if they’re not making noise). We can put a backpack, a stuffed toy, lunches or some other item in the front seat that we need to give the children when we help them out of the car at the destination. We can set an alarm on our phones or other digital devices that reminds us to check the kids we are transporting. We can write ourselves a note and tape it to the dash board. We can make lists and immediately cross items off when we have completed them. Simply paying attention to your child is one of the best duties we can perform as parents.

Maybe one of the most important rules we can make for ourselves is to never, ever leave our kids alone in a parked car, not even for a minute. Whether a car’s engine is running or not, a child may be able to disengage parking gears in some vehicles. Children who are not restrained can get their limbs or head stuck in automatic windows or climb through backseats into trunks and become trapped. Children can become trapped in locked vehicles, so always take your children and your keys out of the car when you get out of the car.

And of course always remember that a vehicle’s interior becomes hot rapidly when it is parked in the sun. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to high temperatures in cars with windows rolled up.

It’s time to stop the distracting habits we have while we’re driving–whether it’s talking or texting on a cell phone (which is now illegal in some states)–or watching a video on some digital device or mobile TV, eating, putting on make-up, or even chatting while driving–it’s time to become aware of what we’re doing and ditch the distractions!

Distracted Driving: What Is It? Who Does It? Why Is It Bad?

It’s the first day of Spring, and we have high hopes that warmer weather is on the way after a long, cold winter in Virginia.  We have high hopes for something else which is occurring in Virginia at the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).  VDOT is homing in on distracted drivers!  Hopefully, this will spark a safe-driving movement that aims at reducing (voluntary) distractions by drivers across the U.S.

What is a distracted driver?  If you have driven on any U.S. roads recently–whether state routes, country roads, or interstate highways, you know who these folks are, you’ve seen them, and possibly you are among their numbers–as we all are occasionally. But we are talking about habitually distracted drivers, who might better have their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.  But as we well know, this is not always the case, and distracted drivers are more frequently becoming the source of unfortunate and often tragic accidents.

What do distracted drivers do when they are supposed to be focused on driving their vehicles?  Distracted drivers may be doing any, some or all of the following while driving–and these are only a few of the activities we have observed:

  • Eating, drinking, and/or smoking (lighting or putting out cigarettes, cigars, or pipes) while driving can be very distracting–even momentarily; spilling hot food, cold or hot drinks, or cigarette ashes;
  • Talking on, listening to, or dialing cell phones;
  • Typing and sending text messages via cell phones;
  • Watching or listening to TV (now, I ask you…)
  • Listening to recorded/downloaded music on iPod-like devices, tape/CD-players or portable radios with earphones in-ears (the latter is actually illegal in many states);
  • Working on… or playing games… on laptop computers;
  • Changing clothing; putting on make-up;
  • Reading the newspaper, books or maps.

The aforementioned are only some of the things distracted drivers do. We are sure you can add other erstwhile activities you have seen people doing when they should be focused on driving, to the list, as distracted driving has become so prevalent, so commonly occurring.  The issue really impressed me while driving on a state route near my home; I noticed an SUV approaching in the rear view mirror at a rather high rate of speed. The SUV came close enough that I noted a neighbors’ young daughter driving and excitedly talking on her cell phone (which was held by her neck) as she gestured with her hands. My sole thought was: What is holding the steering wheel? (And, yes, I called her mom–not to tattle, but simply to ask in whose name the car was insured…)

Meanwhile, our concern is not just for the distracted drivers or for the jeopardy in which they place other drivers–but for the young children and infants who are often passengers in their cars–who can become accident victims very quickly. How often have we seen parents or caregivers with children in booster seats drive down the road in a vehicle while talking or texting on a cell phone?  If this isn’t illegal in all states, it needs to be.  So ChildSafetyBlog.org’s hat is off to VDOT for their spearheading the charge against this distracted driver syndrome!  Go for it, with our blessing and whole-hearted support.  It only makes sense for people to pull over and stop to make or take a call, or text on a cell phone. The other stuff?  Hopefully, you can wait until you get home to see the next episode of “Desperate Housewives”!