A 2003 study by University of Utah psychologists found that drivers using cell phones are as impaired as drivers who are legally drunk.
Over the last few years, I’ve read lots of articles about how cell phone usage while driving is distracting to drivers. Increasingly, that distraction leads to traffic accidents. I’m sure you’ve witnessed some driver who is having a cell phone conversation while seemingly unaware of the traffic around them. Ever been cut off by a cell phone user? Ever been in an accident with someone who was talking on their cell phone? Have you caused an accident while talking on your phone?
I know that it happens with increasing regularity. I never thought it applied to me, though…until I did a somewhat informal test. I compared the times I was driving my car while talking to a passenger, and times when I was driving while on the cell phone. In both situations, I’m talking to someone while driving.
Should be no difference, right?
But I noticed that I could have conversations with people inside the car with no driving distractions. Yet, when I am on the phone…even with a hands-free ear bud…I find that I have lots of difficulty concentrating on what’s happening on the other side of the windshield.
So while I don’t understand why cell phone usage while driving is different from speaking to live humans, I see that it’s true. The university psychologists label it “inattention blindness.”
Many state legislatures have considered passing laws that outlaw cell phone usage while driving. The states that have banned cell phone usage while driving are California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Washington.
One of the upsides of cell phone technology is the mind-boggling increase in business productivity. Employees no longer have to go looking for a phone when outside the office, but are instantly available. But one of the downsides is that businesses are being found liable when their employees are involved in traffic accidents while talking on their cell phones.
The personal injury attorneys have noticed, too. They are getting pretty good at hanging liability around the necks of businesses whose employees cause accidents while talking on the cell phone. Those attorneys regularly obtain cell phone records to prove that the user was on the phone when the accident occurred. The personal injury attorneys know the employers have deep pockets, and the attorneys are sticking their hands down in those pockets successfully.
Companies are settling lawsuits for big money for employee-caused injuries because none of them wants to be a test-case in the courts. Companies defending themselves also don’t want to take the chance of a jury award.
So, more and more, companies are establishing new employee policies that prohibit employees from using their cell phones while driving. In the state of Georgia, where I live, if you’re driving to or from work using your phone and you cause an accident, the employer is not liable. But if you’re using a cell phone…even your own phone…while driving and doing business for your employer, the business can be found liable.
If you’re a business owner, my recommendation is to add a paragraph to your employee handbook that prohibits your employees from using their cell phone, even hands-free, while the vehicle they’re driving is moving.
If you’re using your cell phone for personal use, I’d recommend pulling your car to the side of the road, or even off the road, when you use your cell phone.
The other electronic device that can cause HUGE distractions inside the car are the new Global Positioning System (GPS) units. The GPS has a visual display screen that demands that you look at it. How many seconds do you have to look at a GPS unit while it’s directing you to your destination? It only takes a single second of inattention to cause an accident. The thing that makes the GPS more dangerous (in my opinion) is that you can’t really stop using it while driving, or pull off the road. Because if you pull off the road, you’re no longer moving toward your destination, and to stop moving kind of defeats the purpose of using the GPS.
More lawsuits will assuredly happen when people cause accidents while looking at the screen of their GPS units.
Don’t be the person who caused an injury or death because you’re using your cell phone or GPS while driving. It could truly cost your hundreds of thousands of dollars, and cause your financial ruin!