Distracted driving is something that most of us hear about, but few take the time to understand. Distractions while driving encompass far more than just texting while driving, though that is a leading cause of accidents. In reality, distracted driving is anything that takes your attention off the road. Distracted driving can cause both pedestrian accidents and car accidents.
Each day, around eight people are killed in auto accidents caused by distracted driving. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2018 (their most recent data year) suggests that distracted driving has devastating costs. In 2018, distracted driving:
- Killed more than 2,800 people
- Injured more than 400,000 people
- Was most common among drivers 15-19 years old
- Was responsible for 9% of all teenager deaths in auto accidents
These numbers are more than alarming. They represent millions of lives affected by unnecessary behaviors. In short, most - if not all - of these deaths and injuries could have been prevented.
Who is Most at Risk for Distracted Driving Injuries or Death?
According to the CDC, the most at-risk population for distracted driving accidents are teenagers and young adults. Primarily drivers ages 15-29. Among fatal distracted driving accidents in 2018, 8% of drivers ages 15-19 were distracted when the accident happened. The most common distraction is, unsurprisingly, cell phone use.
A startling 39% of high school-age drivers report texting while driving in the past 30 days. Distracted driving is common among A-B students as it is among students with Cs, Ds, or Fs. Texting or emailing is more common among white students (44%) than Hispanic (33%) or Black (30%) students.
Teenage drivers who drive while distracted are also more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors like:
- Not wearing a seat belt
- Driving after consuming alcohol
- Riding with a driver who has consumed alcohol
If these statistics are not enough reason to teach young drivers about the dangers of distracted driving, there may be little hope for future generations. Parents, teachers, and guardians should work with young drivers to help them understand the risks and prevent injuries and deaths. Following California distracted driving laws can help you and your child minimize risks while driving.
What Are Distracted Driving Laws in California 2023?
In California, distracted driving is one of the most common causes of severe car accidents that result in major injuries or fatalities. This is why California has tough laws when it comes to using cell phones while driving.
Here is a summary of California distracted driving laws in 2023:
- In California, drivers are not allowed to use mobile phones for calling, reading or composing text messages while driving on a public roadway.
- Drivers are allowed to use cell phones for texting or calling if they have a hands-free system such as Bluetooth installed in their vehicles.
- All drivers under the age of 18 are strictly prohibited from using phones, even if they have a hands-free system in their vehicles. This is because teen drivers are young and inexperienced, and are prone to getting involved in major collisions.
- Drivers may use their cell phones without hands-free capability when they are driving on private property, or if they are experiencing an emergency and need to contact law enforcement or emergency personnel right away.
- California defines a hands-free system as one that is mounted on a windshield or dashboard in a way that does not hamper the driver's view of the roadway. The driver must be able to activate or deactivate it with a single swipe or tap.
- Distracted driving is a primary offense in California, which means that a law enforcement officer can give you a ticket if they see you driving with your phone.
While it is true that California's distracted driving laws focus on cell phone usage, it is best for drivers to avoid all types of distractions – be they manual, visual or cognitive. Any distraction that causes you to take your hands off the wheel, eyes off the road and your focus away from the act of driving could put you in real danger.
Focus on the Road
Driving can be a complex process. It requires us to be physically, mentally and visually engaged with the vehicle, the roadway and the environment. Driving when you are visually or mentally distracted can create hazards for you, your passengers and others on the roadway. Often times, commotion and activities on the roadway can cause a distraction.
Looking out of the window as you are passing by can be a distraction, especially if you are looking at an event such as a traffic accident or a vehicle pulled over by law enforcement. "Looky-loo" traffic, as it is called, essentially refers to drivers who are slowing down to look at something that is happening on the roadway that is attracting their interest. This can be distracting and could potentially lead to rear-end accidents and other types of collisions. Construction work is another type of event that draws attention from drivers.
However, it does not have to be a serious event to command your attention. Drivers may be distracted by a catchy billboard on the side of the roadway or freeway, a scenic vista or even fireworks at the ball park or Disneyland. In some scenarios, drivers may get distracted because they are lost or are looking for street names and addresses as they are driving. In such cases, it is a good idea to know where you are going and to look up directions and addresses before you start driving.
Remember to always focus on your driving. It is absolutely important that you remain alert and concentrate on the road in order to reach your destination safely.
Adjust Your Vehicle Controls Before You Drive
Most vehicles today come equipped with an array of technologies. It is tempting for drivers to use them. In some cases, these technologies can be useful to help us get to our destinations. Music in vehicles can help make our journey pleasant. Climate controls can help keep us comfortable in the vehicle. The availability of in-vehicle email and Internet can be convenient. However, all of these conveniences could potentially become distractions and increase your risk of crashing.
Adjusting vehicle controls is a type of manual and visual distraction. It is a manual distraction because it can cause you to take your hand away from the steering wheel such as reaching for, holding or adjusting something. You may have to take your eye off the road to perform such a function, which means adjusting these controls could also become a visual distraction.
Here are a few steps you can take to avoid these types of distractions:
- Be sure to adjust your vehicle's controls such as climate control, radio, music playlists, GPS, etc. before you begin to drive.
- Make sure you know the street name, address and other details relating to your destination before you leave so you are not forced to look up this information as you are driving.
- Check your email, voice mail and text messages before you start driving.
- If you have a passenger with you, ask them to adjust the radio, climate control or navigation system without turning around to face them.
- Wait to adjust the controls until you reach your destination. If you must change any settings, pull over, stop at a safe location and then adjust your controls.
Cell Phone Use While Driving
Cell phone use has become such an integral part of our daily lives that it is second nature for most of us to check our phones every other minute, read the news or post on social media. Needless to say, cell phone use during driving has become so prevalent and problematic over the last decade that many states, including California, have passed stringent laws to ensure that drivers are paying attention to the road.
Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving. This includes talking or texting on your phone. It could also include other activities such as eating or drinking, applying makeup, fiddling with stereo or talking to a passenger. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that texting is the most alarming distraction.
Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that is like driving the entire length of a football field while blindfolded. It is impossible to drive safely unless the driver's attention is on the road. An activity such as talking on the phone is a potential distraction and increases your risk of crashing.
Studies at the national and state level have consistently shown that driving performance is greatly affected by the distractions that cell phones pose. Research has also shed light on the fact that hands-free devices do not lower the risk of getting into an accident because cell phone conversations draw the mind away from the act of driving. It takes our focus away from the road.
Here are a few tips for drivers regarding cell phone use:
- Be sure to make and finish all your calls and attend to emails and texts before you get inside your vehicle.
- Put your phone away when you start driving. If your phone rings while you are behind the wheel, let your voice mail pick up your call.
- Ignore social media notifications and text messages.
- If you must respond to a call or a message, pull over to a safe location, park and turn off the engine before you use your cell phone.
California laws prohibit drivers under the age of 18 from using any type of hand-held or hands-free wireless phone while driving. The law bars all drivers from using a hand-held phone while driving unless they are on private property or are attempting to call law enforcement or emergency personnel.
Vehicle Technology: Remain Aware of the Road and Avoid Distractions
In-vehicle technology is advancing by the minute. There are a number of new technologies that allow drivers to engage in a variety of activities, from having phone conversations or playing music hands-free. Vehicle manufacturers are making an attempt to enhance user experience by surrounding them with such technology. However, as these conveniences proliferate, it is important to be aware of the road and avoid activities in the vehicle that might distract you. It would be in your best interest to learn about new technologies in your vehicle and how to engage with them in a manner that does not pull your attention away from the act of driving.
The new technology most drivers would be well advised to use is one that blocks cell phone use while driving. This is extremely helpful because when the phone buzzes or rings, it is human nature to look and respond. A number of companies have developed apps that automatically respond to those who call or text letting them know you are driving and will respond when you arrive at your destination.
AT&T, for example, has DriveMode and Apple iOS has the DND or "Do Not Disturb" feature, which performs a similar function. For drivers who spend most of their workday in the car and cannot afford to have incoming texts or calls blocked, the Uconnect vehicle platform that is built into Chrysler, Dodge and other vehicle brands, pairs with the Bluetooth-enabled smartphones so drivers can make and receive calls hands-free.
Eating While Driving
If you believe that eating while driving does not constitute a distraction, think again. When you eat behind the wheel, your focus is on your food and not on the act of driving. Think about all the activities you are engaged in when you are eating. You are not just opening packages, unwrapping or putting away food, but you are also reaching, spilling and cleaning – all while driving. Drivers who eat while driving put themselves at risk of a serious crash. If you must eat, pull over to a safe location, park, turn off your engine and enjoy your meal in peace.
There is research to back this up. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), you are 1.5 times more likely to be involved in a crash while eating. Reaching for your food across the seat is not much safer, as it increases your risk of a crash by 1.38 times. The Zebra, an insurance comparison site, conducted a survey in 2021, which found that 52.5% of polled drivers admitted to eating while behind the wheel.
While it is not against California law to eat while driving, if you cause an accident because you were eating and driving, you could still be held financially liable for the injuries, damages and losses you cause.
Children and Pet Passengers
While children and pets are both adorable, children can sometimes be distracting, especially when you are driving and trying to focus on the roadway. It is important that you take safety measures to ensure that children, pets and other passengers don't prove distracting when you are behind the wheel.
When it comes to children, it is up to us as adults to teach them that driving is one of the most important tasks we perform, and that it is a job that needs our undivided attention. Make sure your children are safely buckled up. It does help to keep younger children distracted with books, safe toys or games so they are occupied. If you do need to attend to your children, pull over to a safe location. Do not turn around and talk to your children, or try to attend to them while you are driving.
While it might be tempting to drive with your dog on your lap, this is a dangerous practice. A loose pet in a moving vehicle can be a hazard. Make sure you properly secure your pet in a pet carrier, portable kennel or a specially designed pet harness when you are behind the wheel.