Russell Hebets July 6, 2017

In recent years cell phones have become ubiquitous and texting has become a primary form of communication. While this adds convenience to our lives it also creates tremendous risks when we text while driving.

The Numbers

Distracted driving, which includes texting while driving, leads to accidents that cause 8 deaths and 1161 injuries every day, making distracted driving a major factor in highway safety. Annually, 3,477 people are killed and 391,000 people are injured as a result of distraction. Compare this to alcohol impairment, which is responsible for over 30% of highway fatalities, or about 10,000 deaths per year, as well as about 173,000 non-fatal injuries per year. It is estimated that at any time during the day there are about 660,000 drivers holding their cell phones or manipulating an electronic device while driving, a startling number. The highest use of devices while driving occurs in the 16-24 year old age group.

While talking on the phone can increase a crash risk by 1.3 times, texting will increase the crash risk by 23 times because it takes your eyes off the road for so long. In 2011, 23% of car crashes involved cell phones. The crash risk with alcohol is 2.9 times. While the results of drinking and driving are much more deadly, the risk of texting and crashing is significantly greater.

The Laws

There is no national ban or federal rule that addresses texting, only state laws. In Colorado, the penalty for texting while driving has just increased from $50 to $300 and the violation now earns four points increased from one point on your driver’s license. The recent enhancement in penalties was a response to the tragic death of a Parker couple, killed on their motorcycle by a texting driver.

Nationally, 10 states and Washington DC prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Thirty-two states plus DC prohibit new drivers from cell phone use, and 39 states plus DC prohibit all drivers from texting while driving.

Preventative Measures

Most preventive measures focus on education, especially for young drivers. Drivers of every age must be reminded that it only takes a few seconds for an accident to happen, which is why it’s vital to keep your eyes on the road at all times. For people with young drivers in the family it’s important to model this behavior by avoiding cell use in front of young passengers and pulling over for calls and texts.

In addition to education and social media campaigns, young drivers are encouraged to take a text-free driving pledge here . Some parents opt to install a drive cam to monitor their kids’ driving and others utilize an app called AT&T drive mode . This is an app that allows one to turn off distractions while driving and also monitor young drivers on the road. 

Consequences and Liability

If you are texting and involved in an accident, you could be held liable for the crash. Texting may be regarded as a negligent or careless act, especially in states that have specific laws related to texting while driving. The police may check your phone at the scene for recent activity, witnesses may be asked if they saw any drivers on their phones, or your phone records may be subpoenaed later on by the party seeking damages. There have been cases where the law attempted to hold the text sender responsible, but it is very difficult to prove the sender knew the receiver was driving at the time of the text. Recently however, a young woman was found responsible for texts she sent to her suicidal boyfriend, in part because the prosecution was able to prove she was sending him texts at the time of the act.

Texting may seem like a harmless act or another fun way to communicate, but it is serious business. When and where you text matters greatly, and if you drive you have a responsibility to drive safely and avoid accidents. The best way to do that is to put down the phone and keep your eyes on the road.