In 2004, a woman in Michigan was talking on a cell phone when she drove through a red light and into an intersection. She hit another car and killed a 12-year-old boy from the impact. The light hadn’t just turned red, it had been red for a little while, as the car she hit wasn’t the first through the intersection. She was reported to be looking straight ahead while on the phone—not looking down, like we usually assume with an accident like this. Even though she was looking ahead, she was distracted by her phone conversation. And that was 15 years ago. Think of how cell phones have advanced since then to occupy even more of our attention.
Distracted drivers kill 9 people a day and injure over 1,000 others. They’re a leading factor in fatal and serious car accident injuries, right behind drunk driving and speeding. Drivers have become complacent even though they are putting their own life and others’ lives at risk every time they get behind the wheel.
Dangers of Hands-Free Devices
Talking on a hands-free device makes a crash four times as likely, and a quarter of accidents each year involve a cell phone. The National Safety Council (NSC) labels talking on the phone, hands-free or otherwise, as a cognitive distraction. Some drivers argue that talking on a cell phone is the same thing as talking to a passenger, but that’s not true. It’s much more dangerous. A passenger can see any traffic problems and alert the driver, but a person on the other end of the cell phone can’t.
Cognitive distraction causes inattention blindness, which means a driver is looking out the windshield but is not processing the objects around them or what they are doing, like the woman from Michigan. Inattention blindness is like tunnel vision. A driver sees 50% less of their surrounding environment when talking on the phone and can’t respond to unexpected hazards because of their slower reaction time. Even though your hands are on the wheel and you’re looking out the windshield, your mind isn’t on driving.
On top of that, the human brain can’t multitask. Our brains toggle between tasks, meaning we can only focus on one task at a time, even though we might be able to switch back and forth quickly. If you’re on the phone while driving, two tasks that require cognitive attention, you can’t pay attention to both. You will only be able to focus on the phone conversation or driving, and it’s usually the former, which leaves driving on the back burner.
What’s the Law for Using Hands-Free Devices?
Even though hands-free devices cause distracted driving, there are currently no laws in South Carolina against them. Talking on the phone while driving is not illegal, but it can cause actions that are illegal, like disobeying traffic rules, speeding, and reckless driving.
Rep. Taylor’s (SC-R) bill, House Bill 3355, would make it illegal to talk on a handheld cellphone while driving, intending to encourage drivers to go hands-free. This bill is likely dead in the House and will need the Senate to see any progress. Sen. Tom Young (SC-R) adjusted the bill to make first offenders pay a $100 fine. Subsequent offenders would pay a $300 fine and receive two points on their license. Though reducing hand-held cell phone use is a good step and has decreased fatalities by 16% in other states with similar legislation, hands-free devices are still dangerous.
If a distracted driver on a cell phone caused an accident that resulted in damages or injury, contact our legal team at Solomon Law Group. We will help you get the compensation you deserve and make them rethink their negligent actions.