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Why is Distracted Driving a Problem, Especially for Teen Drivers?

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The list of distractions that drivers must contend with on the road continues to grow, as smartphones, music, podcasts, and even billboards all compete for the attention of those behind the wheel. In the current era, it’s hard enough for adults to stay focused while driving – let alone teenagers. Unfortunately, all too often this results in serious injuries caused by distracting driving accidents.

What is the definition of distracted driving?

According to a study from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, driver inattention is defined as: “[when] a driver has chosen to engage in a secondary task that is not necessary to perform the primary driving task.” Distracted driving comes in many forms, but the simplest definition involves any activity that diverts attention away from the road while driving.

What is the leading cause of distracted driving?

Although it’s typically assumed that the greatest cause of distracted driving accidents is texting or using a smartphone, there is a lack of clarity among the available statistics. As the National Safety Council points out, accidents caused by smartphones are heavily underreported, obscuring precisely how common smartphone-influenced accidents are. This is largely attributed to drivers not reporting if they were distracted by their phone before an accident, as well as limitations in data collection pertaining to cellphone usage at the time of a crash.

In an effort to reduce distracted driving accidents, organizations such as Impact Driving have been established to promote safe driving practices and spread awareness on the dangers of distractions behind the wheel. Even so, there is growing concern in regard to how confident a large proportion of teens are in driving with distractions. A survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that nearly 30% of young drivers between the ages of 21 and 34 believe that texting does not affect their driving.

Smartphones and Distracted Driving: The Snap Lawsuit Cases

Several high-profile examples of smartphones allegedly causing distracted driving accidents can be found in Snapchat. The popular photo-sharing chat app is well-known for its expansive selection of filters that add live effects to pictures or videos. One of the more popular filters (first available on the app in 2013) allowed users to display the speed at which they were moving when the photo was taken.

The filter has been tied to multiple accidents over the years, and there have been at least two notable cases where a Snap lawsuit was filed after it was found that the driver in a serious accident had been using the Snap speed filter prior to the crash. In each instance (2015 and 2017) the driver reached speeds of over 100 miles per hour before the crash. In court, it was argued that the filter encouraged distracted driving as well as unsafe speeds, and that Snap, Inc. was negligent in allowing the filter’s continued existence on the app.

Although both lawsuits were initially dismissed under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the 2017 case (which involved three fatalities) was revived in 2021 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. In a reversal of the earlier decision that gave the company protection under Section 230, it was ruled that Snap, Inc. could be held liable for accidents related to the speed filter. Several weeks after the decision, Snapchat announced that it had removed the filter from its app.

Why is Distracted Driving a Problem, Especially for Teen Drivers? Other Causes of Distracted Driving

Driving teen looking at phone - why is distracted driving a problem especially for teen drivers?

While smartphone usage may be the most commonly cited type of distracted driving, there are many other forms of distraction that occur on the road – many of which can be especially impactful for newer, less-experienced drivers.

Some examples of other driving distractions include:

  • Pets: While it may be a common sight to see a dog poking their head out of a car’s window and enjoying the breeze, pets can be a major source of distraction to drivers. It’s even more dangerous if they are sitting in the driver’s lap, or jumping around the car. The safest place for pets is in a kennel designed for a vehicle.
  • Music: Although listening to the radio while driving is a classic American pastime, it can be dangerous to have the radio on at volumes high enough to obscure unseen road hazards. Changing the station, or looking for a certain song or artist, is a common cause of distracted driving accidents as well.
  • Other Passengers: For teenagers in particular, a rowdy passenger can be a serious source of distraction – especially if that passenger is themselves engaging in (or otherwise encouraging) unsafe behavior. This has been a documented cause of fatal accidents among teens, in some cases prompting the question: Can a passenger be liable for a car accident?

What differentiates distracted driving from inattentive driving?

Most experts believe that distracted driving is part of being inattentive, while others believe that the two concepts of distraction and inattentiveness are completely separate. One thing that is clear is that the laws around distracted driving continue to change from the general to the more specific over time in order to encourage both teenagers and adults to keep their eyes on the road. The latest update to distracted driving laws in California include the specific placement of a smartphone in a vehicle. Drivers can be fined if their smartphones are not mounted to either the dashboard or centre console, and a set distance away from the windshield.  

Hiring a Distracted Driving Car Accident Lawyer

If you’ve been in a car accident and you believe the incident was caused by a distracted or inattentive driver, it’s important to get the right legal advice at the right time. Avrek Law can help you understand your legal options when it comes to distracted driving accidents. The consultation is free, and you’ll receive expert advice from a law firm that has successfully resolved more than 10,000 personal injury cases, recovering over $1 billion for clients. Contact us today – we want to hear more about your case!

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