Car conversations: better to be impolite than negligent

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration examining the causes of distracted driving accidents reveals a surprising result: The leading cause of distracted auto crashes is not driver cell phone use, but conversations with one or more passengers. Specifically, conversations were to blame in around 57 percent of the distracted driving crashes in the study, compared to only 12 percent of cell phone related crashes. The results were based on NHTSA analysts’ review of crash survey data over a two-year period.

Ironically, drivers may actually take more compensatory measures when engaging in well known risky behaviors, like texting and driving. Some may use their cell phone only when stopped at red lights, whereas others might hold the cell phone above the steering wheel so that they can simultaneously see both the road and their phone.

Although talking while driving may not seem like a dangerous activity, each driver must take appropriate actions to ensure that his or her primary focus is on the road, traffic flow, environmental conditions and any other factors that, if ignored, might increase the risk of a crash. Such precautions are presumably not taken when a driver simply engages his or her passengers in conversation.

A jury in a personal injury lawsuit might have a harder time labeling a driver’s mere talking with his or her passengers as negligent. However, each motor vehicle accident involves unique circumstances, and a driver who failed to respond appropriately and safely under the given conditions might be deemed liable for any resulting injuries to others.

Source: Washington Post, “This surprising activity is more dangerous than using your phone while driving,” Jacob Bogage, June 23, 2016

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