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Distracted driving as a source of potential negligence

When intoxication is a contributing factor in causing an auto accident, it is fairly simple to understand why. Too much alcohol can lead to poor judgment, reduced motor skills and degraded reaction times, all of which make getting into a car crash more likely.

Another source of impairment behind the wheel is gaining more recognition as it becomes more prevalent: distracted driving. Like alcohol, distraction increases the risk that a driver will make a critical error, and that error can lead to an accident. Simply talking on a cellphone, for example, can increase the risk of a car accident by up to 400 percent.

And cellphone usage is not the most serious cause of driver distraction.

The sources of distraction are many; most anything that takes the driver’s attention off of the act of driving qualifies:

  • Talking with another person, including using a hands-free cellphone (it is not the holding of a cellphone in the hand that is the main source of distraction, but the conversation itself).
  • Reaching for an object, such as sunglasses, a water bottle, or something that fell onto the floor of the car.
  • Drinking, eating or smoking while driving.
  • Focusing on in-car systems, such as stereos or in-car navigation systems.
  • Letting a pet roam free in the car.
  • Adjusting mirrors while the car is in motion.

The worst source of distracted driving is texting. It can make a driver more than 20 times more likely to collide with something. Another major contributor is looking at people or things outside of the car instead of focusing on the direction of travel.

Most of these distractors seem obvious, and many people may think that no reasonable person would engage in them while driving. But statistics suggest otherwise: when it comes to texting while driving, more than 10 percent of drivers generally, and nearly half of drivers aged 16 to 24 admit to engaging in it. Two-thirds of drivers aged 25 to 34 admit to talking on the cell phone when behind the wheel.

It is in fact this "common sense" consideration that can make distracted driving a possible source of negligence liability. Any car accident in which it can be established that a driver was subject to an avoidable distraction opens up an inquiry into whether that individual knew, or should have known, that it increased the risk to others.

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