It took some time, but finally, the Federal Department of Transportation issued a regulatory ruling that banned texting while driving in most commercial motor vehicles.
Dialing Cell Phone, 5.9 times more likely to have a crash
Use/reach for an electronic device, 6.7 times as likely
Texting, 23.2 times as likely.
Those are some sobering statistics.
A new factor
A ruling out of California plays into the mix in an interesting way. Although the case involved looking at information on a cell phone subsequent to a drug arrest, the courts held that police could search a cell phone without a warrant as part of their investigation. This means that at the scene of an accident, officers may pull up recent cell phone activity to see if the driver involved was texting.
States are still working out the law. A ruling in Ohio found just the opposite, and in that state, a warrant is required.
Attorneys who are establishing the facts of a truck vs. car collision for their client will often subpoena cell phone records. They do this to find out if a truck driver may have been driving distracted – a situation that may have contributed to an accident. With the police able to do this on scene however, the case is made that much stronger by having their independent testimony on record in the police report. This may also be used to establish penalties against truck drivers under the DOT regulations.
Of course, for professional truck drivers, there are many more distractions than cell phones alone. As noted in the VTTI study, merely reaching for an electronic device can dramatically increase the chances of having an accident. Modern truck cabs may have a CB-radio, radar detector, laptop computer, GPS display, electronic manifest or log, and other devices – all or any of which can impair driving.
More accidents and more deadly accidents
Distracted driving not only increases the numbers of accidents, but increases the likelihood that an accident will be serious. Data shows that 20% of injury crashes involved distracted driving – and these are only the ones reported. The assumption is that many go unreported.
The reason is simple. When you are attentive, you can take some action – braking or swerving – to lessen the damage. But with distracted driving, the responsible party is often unaware an accident is about to happen. Quite often, these accidents involve ramming into the back of a stopped vehicle at full speed or drifting into the wrong lane. The mental or cognitive impairment is akin to falling asleep at the wheel – much worse even than someone who is driving slightly drunk. Their reactions will be slowed, but the distracted driver can completely zone out, allowing the truck to move along on autopilot.