New Year’s Resolution Series – Stop Texting While Driving

January 27th, 2018 | by RON BELL

New Year’s Resolution Series – Stop Texting While Driving

Every year millions of Americans start off the New Year with resolutions for self-improvement or life goals. However, a vast majority of them don’t last more than a few weeks. We at Ron Bell Injury Lawyers hope that our readers will take up these resolutions and succeed in them.

Over the next month, each of our blogs will target a suggested resolution for a safer, healthier and personal injury free 2018.

Resolve to Quit Texting While Driving

Each year, cellphones account for 1.1 million crashes, with the National Safety Council (NSC) estimating that a “minimum of 3 percent” of those accidents involve texting. A separate study in 2017 by the NSC found that while 83 percent of those surveyed felt that driving was a safety concern, 47 percent admitted that they felt comfortable texting while driving, either manually or by voice.  

AT&T also did a study of their customers where 95-percent acknowledged that texting while driving was bad, yet 71 percent admitted to still doing it. 

“Our complacency is killing us. Americans believe there is nothing we can do to stop crashes from happening, but that isn’t true,” said NSC President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman. “The U.S. lags behind the rest of the developed world in addressing highway fatalities. We know what needs to be done; we just haven’t done it.”


Complacency and the Law

New Mexico enacted a law in 2014 that made texting and driving illegal, along with a $25 fine. However, nearly four years later, lawmakers say the fine isn’t acting as a deterrent at all, likely because of the low-cost of the fine.

“We didn’t feel that that was much incentive for people to be concerned about texting or even for law enforcement to want to enforce it,” Senator Steven Neville said.

 Other municipalities in the State have their own, more stringent laws. For example, Santa Fe has a $100 fine for distracted driving along with texting. However, they’re not seeing a decrease either.

 In 2005, Santa Fe wrote 2,000 tickets for cellphone violations, and the Police Department said in September 2017 that distracted driving was the “city’s number one cause of accidents,” reported the Santa Fe Reporter.

“Santa Fe isn’t alone in its frustration with anti-distraction laws that don’t seem to do anything other than get people to stash their phone as soon as they see a cop. Nationwide, traffic safety experts say that when cities or states pass a ban on hand-held cellphone use, drivers do change their behavior. They go hands-free more often and they limit texting. But many don’t stop, and there hasn’t been a corresponding drop in crashes.”


Why It’s So Dangerous

It only takes five seconds to cover the length of a football field while driving at 55 mph, the average speed limit in most states.

“Anything that takes your attention away from driving can be a distraction. Sending a text message, talking on a cell phone, using a navigation system, and eating while driving are a few examples of distracted driving. Any of these distractions can endanger the driver and others,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “Texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction.”


Multitasking and Complacency 

Despite the dangers, studies show that most people think that other drivers are the cause of accidents, not them – even while they talk or text on cell phones. The NSC targeted this feeling of driver superiority to a misunderstanding of multitasking.  Their study “Understanding the distracted brain – Why driving while using hands-free cellphones is a risky behavior”.

“A few states have passed legislation making it illegal to use a handheld cellphone while driving. These laws give a false impression that using a hands-free phone is safe,” the study said. “Multitasking is valued in today’s culture, and our drive for increased productivity makes it tempting to use cell phones while behind the wheel. People often think they are effectively accomplishing two tasks at the same time. And yes, they may complete a phone conversation while they drive and arrive at their destination without incident, thus accomplishing two tasks during the same time frame.” 

But, they cited a study by the University of Utah that found that driving using cell phones had slower reaction times than drivers impaired by an alcohol content of .08 – the legal intoxication limit.  

The reason being that the brain can’t actually multitask, they said.

“Multitasking is a myth. Human brains do not perform two tasks at the same time. Instead, the brain handles tasks sequentially, switching between one task and another. Brains can juggle tasks very rapidly, which leads us to erroneously believe we are doing two tasks at the same time. In reality, the brain is switching attention between tasks – performing only one task at a time.”

Even in the face of studies, news stories and public awareness campaigns, the numbers don’t show a downward trend when people think they’re above the law in the moment. 

“80-percent (of drivers surveyed) see themselves as safer than the average drivers who don’t believe their distracted driving puts them at risk,” says a AAA study. 

And that’s the problem. 

“But even when people are aware of the risks, they tend to believe they are more skilled than other drivers, and many still engage in driving behaviors they know are potentially dangerous,” said the NCS study.

 Cell Phone Use and Personal Injury Law

In New Mexico, the cell phone law falls under the distracted driving traffic violation category and, on its own is not proof of negligence in an accident. However, a personal injury lawyer can use the ticket as a legal basis of a pattern of carelessness by the driver.  

Regardless of the legal implications, in this New Year, we hope that everyone will resolve to not drive and text. Whatever it is, it can wait.

     Texting and Driving Law in New Mexico

  • Commercial drivers are not allowed to use a cellphone while driving.
  • Other drivers are not allowed to read or view text message or type a message on hand-held phone while driving.
  • It is illegal to use a phone for calls or texting at stoplights, stop-signs and traffic suggestion as it still fits in the laws definition of “driving.”
  • Drivers who pull over to the side of the road and park the car are allowed to text or take calls.
  • Police may seize cellphones to check if text messages were sent or received.

Further Reading

AAA Study on Teen Distracted Driving
National Safety Council research paper on Distracted Driving, even when using hands-free devices.

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