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Are We Wasting Time Defining Distracted Driving?

In the past several years, there’s been a crusade of sorts to demonize and ban distracted driving. While the cause is noble, people seem to be spending a lot of time trying to pin down what distracted driving actually is. Before cell phones and texting, distracted driving used to refer to anything from eating a sandwich to shaving while driving. Today, the focus might be on texting, but there’s more to it than that. The question is, what can be banned, and how do you enforce it?

Obviously, the statistics show that texting while driving is a serious problem. One commonly cited statistic says that a driver busy sending or receiving a text message spends 4.6 out of every 6 seconds with his eyes off the road. At 55 mph, this is the equivalent of a football field of distance. The U.S. Department of Transportation claims that texting while driving makes a driver 23 times more likely to crash than someone who isn’t distracted. There’s no question that texting is deadly in a car.

However, that still leaves the definition of distracted driving lacking. What about other activities? Should you be pulled over for unwrapping a fast food hamburger or putting on makeup? Where is the line drawn, and how do you properly word a law to ensure that everything that’s distracting is included? Unfortunately, experts have a difficult time truly defining what distracted driving is.

Florida doesn’t currently have any laws on the books that deal with distracted driving, though one possible ban is progressing through the state legislature. Many other states identify distracted driving as a primary violation, which means if a police officer sees drivers distracted by their cell phone or a box of doughnuts, he can pull them over for that reason alone. Otherwise, he can only cite them for the distracted driving offense if they’re caught doing something else first.

It’s a thorny issue. Thousands of people across the country die each year from recorded incidents of distracted driving, but because it’s hard to know the cause of every accident or to define what distracted driving is, the actual number of accidents caused by distracted driving is probably much higher. For anyone who’s appalled by these sobering statistics, the impulse might be to get something rushed through the legislature, but it’s important to be able to enforce the law that’s passed. Defining distracted driving seems to be a necessary evil in order to craft a proper law.

Unfortunately, there might not be a simple answer to the question of what distracted driving means. Perhaps the best way to combat distracted driving is through educational campaigns and personal responsibility. As technology advances, many phone manufacturers and automakers will make hands-free calls easier and more intuitive. That will help with texting or checking email, but when it comes to low-tech distractions, there really is nothing except the individual driver’s willingness to focus on the road.

In the end, it just might come down to that.

As a personal injury attorney in Tampa, FL we see many cases that are caused by distracted drivers and we hope that continued education can help reduce this issue.

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