Texting while driving is prohibited in California and many other states, but these laws have done little to stem the problem. The number of people killed or seriously injured each year in car accidents caused by texting drivers is difficult to calculate because distraction does not leave behind telltale clues, but studies suggest that it is very high. Researchers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration believe that 660,000 American drivers are distracted by cellphones at any moment, and a Virginia Tech study concluded that drivers who use their phones to send text messages are 20 times more likely to be involved in an accident.
Visual, manual and cognitive distraction
Texting is so dangerous because it distracts drivers visually, manually and cognitively. This often leads to tragedy because a vehicle traveling at 55 mph covers a distance equal to the length of a football field in the few seconds it takes to pick up a cellphone and type a single character. Young drivers who lack experience behind the wheel have the highest risks, and they are also the demographic group that is most likely to engage in this dangerous behavior. More than one in three teens admit to texting while behind the wheel on a regular basis, and one in five say that their text chats involve more than two people.
The fines for texting while driving are relatively modest, but drivers who cause serious motor vehicle accidents while using their cellphones to send messages can face far harsher penalties. Proving that a driver was using a cellphone when they crashed is relatively straightforward for personal injury attorneys pursuing civil lawsuits on behalf of accident victims. Subpoenas can be used to obtain cellphone records from wireless service providers that show when a device was being used and for what purpose. These records can also be used to identify the parties that distracted drivers were communicating with so they can be called to answer questions at depositions.
Technology could provide an answer
It seems clear that simply passing laws is not enough to deter drivers from using their cellphones, but technology could provide a solution. Cellphone manufacturers and software companies are developing features and apps that use GPS data to determine when a vehicle is moving and then prevent calls or text messages from getting through until it stops. Drivers will be able to text, make calls or access the internet without putting other road users in danger when self-driving cars become the norm, which most experts expect to happen in a decade or so.