Is texting behind the wheel the new drunk driving?

Would you get into a car with a drunk driver? Societal attitudes about drinking and driving generally discourage such behavior. The attitude may be a reflection of both the tough enforcement of drunk driving offenses by authorities, as well as public awareness of the serious or even fatal injuries that can result from a drunk driving crash. 

A recent article questions whether the same approach should be taken to discourage distracted driving. Lawmakers might pass laws that establish punishment guidelines for distracted driving first and repeat offenders, similar to drunk driving laws. Technology now allows officers to plug a device into a driver's cell phone to determine whether he or she was using the device prior to a crash, similar to a breathalyzer.  

Yet stricter laws may serve another public purpose. Specifically, the article questioned whether passengers are too forgiving of drivers who are texting, surfing social media or talking on the phone behind the wheel. Unfortunately, passengers should not have more confidence in distracted drivers than drunk drivers. Indeed, various research indicates comparable levels of impairment between drunk and distracted drivers.

Even more troubling, however, is that drivers don’t change their behaviors, despite awareness of the risks associated with cellphone use. As a law firm that focuses on personal injury lawsuits, we have seen firsthand the serious injuries that can result from distracted driving. The civil court system provides a mechanism for seeking compensation from negligent drivers, and evidence of cell phone use prior to a crash can be very persuasive to juries. After a car accident, a civil lawsuit is one way a crash victim can seek justice and hopefully obtain compensation that will make the road to recovery smoother. 

Source: The New York Times, “Student Question | Should Distracted Driving Be Punished Like Drinking and Driving?” Katherine Schulten, April 29, 2016

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