How many people do you know who don’t own a smartphone? Chances are, very few. These powerful mobile devices have become ubiquitous in the U.S. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 77% of Americans own one. Just six years ago, it was 35%. Gone are the days where phones were primarily used for mere verbal communication. Now over three-quarters of the population can text, email, access the internet, get directions, take pictures, post to social media, and play video games from the palm of their hand. It’s therefore reasonable to assume that this increase in smartphone ownership means that more people than ever are using their phones while driving.
Reliable research on phone use while driving is difficult to come by. That’s because most of the data currently available requires people to self-report the behavior. However, newer studies that use smartphones themselves to analyze their usage indicate that an alarming number of people use their phones while behind the wheel. One such study conducted by Zendrive analyzed over three million anonymous drivers over a three month period. The study found that, on average, those drivers used their phones during 88 out of 100 trips. During an hour-long trip, drivers spent an average of 3.5 minutes using their phones. That’s scary if you consider that at 55 mph you can travel 80 feet, about the size of a high school basketball court, in one second. That means a text that takes four seconds to read will keep the readers eyes off the road for a distance the length of a football field.
In representing those injured in auto accidents, we’ve seen first-hand the increase in distracted driving incidents caused by phone use. Invariably during our consultations we find ourselves asking clients “was the other driver using their phone at the time of the accident?” With increasing regularity, the answer to that question is “yes.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle accidents involving distracted driving. Those figures include some distractions that were not smartphone related, however, it’s easy to argue the numbers are artificially low since crash investigations don’t reliably uncover all instances of distracted driving.
Crash report investigations that don’t result in death are surprisingly lacking in detail. If involved in accident, you may assume that any officers that report to the scene are conducting an investigation that includes analyzing physical evidence, interviewing witnesses, and taking down witnesses’ contact information. Often, you’d be wrong. To the extent that you’re able, it’s best to write down the names and contact information of everyone who may have relevant information about how the accident occurred. If the officer tells you that they believe the other driver was distracted by a phone or other device at the time of the accident, ask them why they believe that. Such information may be crucial in demonstrating the fault of the distracted driver.
Another common misconception is that the reporting officer will gain access to the at-fault driver’s phone or phone records to determine if the device was used at the time of the accident. However, investigating officers are not permitted access to such information without a warrant. Absent evidence of criminal activity, a warrant cannot be issued.
By now, most Americans have been made aware that phone use while driving is dangerous. Still for some, the urge to stay in the loop is too strong ignore. If you’ve been injured by a distracted driver, contact our office today for a free consultation – (772) 569-0000.