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The Dangers of Inattentive Driving

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What Is Inattentive Driving?


Zane Cagle, Car Accident Attorney

Inattentive driving often gets conflated with distracted driving, but they aren’t the same thing. Distracted driving is a form of inattentive driving specific to the use of electronic devices while behind the wheel—sending or reading texts and email, viewing social media accounts, making phone calls, and so forth.

Inattentive driving includes those activities, but so much more—changing the radio station, programming a GPS, reading a map, putting on makeup, adjusting the air conditioning or heater, talking to others in the car, or trying to discipline children while driving. It also includes daydreaming and driving on autopilot rather than actively paying attention to the road—actions that can lead to the failure to yield in intersections or to notice the traffic patterns around a driver before making a turn or changing lanes.

While phone use in particular gets a lot of media attention, many of these older-fashioned forms of inattention persist. They caused serious accidents long before the advent of cell phones, and they continue to do so. When they lead to someone crashing into you, you may have an opportunity to recover compensation by contacting an experienced car accident attorney. Call The Cagle Law Firm today for more information.

Driver inattention is a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents in Missouri and across the nation. In fact, according to a new study from the University of Missouri, drivers who do not pay attention to the task of driving are 29 times more likely to crash than attentive drivers.

What are the main causes of driver inattention, though? And what makes inattentive driving so dangerous? Read on for more information.

What Is Attentive Driving?

An attentive driver pays attention to the roadway, and focuses on the task of driving. Examples of attentive driving include:

  • Assessing traffic conditions on the roadway far ahead of the driver’s current position to have ample time to recognize and respond to hazards.
  • Maintaining a safe following distance between the driver’s vehicle and the vehicle ahead of it.
  • Reducing speed and increasing vigilance when road conditions change, such as during a rain or snowstorm or in low visibility conditions such as at dawn or dusk.
  • Avoiding driving when enraged.
  • Avoiding driving when under the influence of alcohol or medication
  • Avoiding driving when fatigued
  • Checking mirrors and using the turn signal before turning or making a lane change.
  • Avoiding any activity that draws one’s attention from driving, including texting, eating, reading, or applying makeup.

The Consequences of Inattention

“If you’re texting, if you’re playing with your radio, whatever you’re doing that’s taking you off the roadway, it’s just a matter of time before you get in a crash and hurt somebody,” said a Cape Girardeau police officer after an inattentive driver nearly killed him while he provided traffic control for a previous crash. The officer said that, while he was directing traffic with his vehicle’s emergency lights on, traffic cones placed at the site, and while wearing a reflective vest, he watched a vehicle crash into his patrol car and nearly hit him as well. The driver was charged with careless and imprudent driving.

In 2017, 3,166 people died in the United States due to traffic accidents caused by inattentive drivers. There were 599 non-occupants killed in distraction-related crashes, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and others. The officer’s near-accident with a distracted driver, and subsequent charges against the driver, is just one example of the consequences of inattentive driving. Here is a look at a few more:

  • Inattention may make a driver miss changes in speed limits, causing a driver to speed through school zones where pedestrians may cross the street or work zones where workers are present. Missouri law features increased fines for speeding in work zones, and further increases if workers are present at the time when the offense occurred.
  • Inattention could cause a driver to miss an exit or to carelessly cross through traffic lanes because a driver was late in preparing to exit. Inattention can also cause a driver to fail to notice road signs, such as one-way signs, that could result in wrong-way driving.
  • A driver could miss hazards on the roadway due to inattention, including people, other cars, or even animals. One in every 110 drivers in Missouri is involved in an accident with a large animal, such as a deer, a recent news report noted. Officials warn individuals to use extra caution, particularly during the fall months, to avoid a deer collision.
  • Inattention is also a major cause of rear-end accidents, as a driver could proceed without noticing that traffic has slowed or stopped ahead.
  • Inattention at intersections is particularly risky, as it can lead to a failure to yield the right-of-way, the chief cause of broadside accidents.
  • Inattentive driving that involves loud music or headphones may cause an inability to hear approaching sirens of emergency vehicles, potentially creating an obstacle for first responders in an emergency. It can also cause a driver to miss the clicking sound of a turn signal, possibly confusing other drivers. Drivers may miss the sound of other vehicles or children playing by the roadside and not realize they’re there in time to avoid collisions.
  • Inattention could cause a driver to miss a school bus stop sign or flashing lights, resulting in the potential for striking a child who is getting off the school bus and crossing the street.
  • Inattention can result in a driver swerving into another travel lane or even into oncoming traffic lanes.
  • Inattention is a major cause of single-vehicle run off the road type accidents, which often result in deadly vehicle rollovers.
  • An inattentive driver is also at increased risk of inadequate surveillance before entering a roadway, which poses a particular risk to bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorcyclists that may be in the vehicle’s path.

Types of Driver Inattention

As many as 80 percent of car accidents are the result of a driver who is distracted or not paying attention. To operate a motor vehicle safely, drivers must visually, manually, and cognitively pay attention to driving. Any of these three forms of inattention puts the driver—and others on the road—at risk of an accident.

  • Manual inattention: Manual distractions are those that cause the driver to take his or her hands from the wheel. Some examples of inattention caused by a manual distraction include removing a jacket while driving, adjusting vehicle, GPS, or stereo controls, eating or drinking, smoking, or reaching for an object in the car while driving.
  • Visual inattention: “I only looked down for one second,” is a phrase commonly heard at the scene of motor vehicle accidents. Visual distractions cause the driver to take his or her eyes off the road, and may include external factors such as billboards, people in other cars, or even previous accidents. Being visually distracted may also include looking in the rearview or visor mirror and failing to pay attention to objects or hazards in front of the vehicle. They can also be internal, such as looking down at gauges, looking at the GPS, looking for something on the floor or seat of the vehicle, or glancing back at a child or pet in the back seat. A study revealed that parents who drive with children in their car are 12 times more likely to become involved in an accident than drivers who are distracted by a cell phone. During an average 16-minute car trip, parents with kids in the car spend around three minutes and 22 seconds looking at what their children are doing rather than focusing on the roadway ahead.
  • Cognitive inattention: To drive safely, the driver must focus on the task of driving. Letting one’s mind wander or simply not paying attention to what is going on in and around the vehicle is actually the most common crash-causing distraction of all. Examples of cognitive distractions to drivers include daydreaming, thinking about work or personal issues, conversing with other passengers, singing or listening to music, or talking on the phone.

Alcohol impairment or fatigued driving aren’t technically forms of inattention, but both of these conditions impair a driver’s ability to focus on the roadway and may result in other deficits in the skills needed for the safe operation of a motor vehicle.

The Dangers of Smart Phones and Driving

The use of smartphones—and texting, in particular—poses a particular risk when driving, because it causes the driver to be distracted manually, visually, and cognitively all at the same time. As noted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, it takes a person approximately five seconds to read or reply to a text. When traveling at 55 miles per hour, a driver reading or replying to a text will have traveled the length of a football field without his or her hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, or mind on the task of driving. According to a report, cell phone-related crashes in Missouri have increased 34 percent since 2014, with 70 percent of those crashes involving drivers aged 22 or older.

Missouri is currently one of only two states in the nation—along with Montana—that doesn’t have a full ban on texting while driving. In Missouri, only those under the age of 21 are prohibited from texting and driving. In spite of many drivers here stating that they agree that texting and driving is dangerous, nine out of 10 people surveyed on the matter confessed that they do use their smartphones while driving.

Other smartphone uses that result in driver inattention include talking on handheld devices, reading and responding to email, and browsing the internet or social media. In 2017, 434 people died in crashes where one of the drivers was using a cell phone at the time of the crash. Drivers who are talking on their phones are more than two times more likely to crash. The potential for an accident increases more than 12 times during the time it takes for the driver to dial a phone number. Watching videos or video chatting through a phone app also increased the risk of accidents, with 8 percent of drivers participating in a Consumer Reports survey stating that they had watched a video on their phone while driving.

Why can’t drivers simply set down their phones? According to some sources, the smartphone is an addictive pass-time. That, combined with a fear of missing out, causes our brains to respond to the notification alerts that our phones provide. When we hear the ping that signals an incoming text, email, or social media post, our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with learning and rewards. The brain releases dopamine as a means of cementing our anticipation of pleasurable or life-sustaining activities, such as eating, sex, and using drugs or alcohol. Each time we respond to a cue in anticipation of a reward, we reinforce and strengthen the association our brains have created.

It has been found that even using hands-free devices does not eliminate the risk of an accident, as the risk has less to do with the manual distraction and more to do with our brain’s inability to multi-task.

Inattentiveness and Young Drivers

Drivers between the ages of 15 and 19 represented the highest number of drivers in fatal distraction-related crashes in the nation in 2017, accounting for 8 percent of those accidents. Distraction is a key factor in more than half of accidents involving teen drivers, as driver inexperience and inattentiveness make a dangerous combination. While much has been said about cell phone use, texting, and teenage driving, another risky distraction for teens is their peers.

The risk of an accident doubles for teen drivers who have one additional teen riding as a passenger in their car. That risk triples if there are two or more teen passengers in the car.

While both male and female teens are prone to distractions when there are peers in the car, male teen drivers are twice more likely to drive aggressively when they have peer passengers in the car than they are when driving alone, and six times more likely to perform an illegal maneuver. On the other hand, female teen drivers are far less likely to drive aggressively, whether they have an additional passenger in the car or not.

Teen drivers and passengers alike are encouraged to take the task of driving seriously and eliminate or avoid distractions such as loud music, horseplay, or social media. Passengers are encouraged to have respect for the teen driver and to never encourage him or her to speed or otherwise engage in risky driving practices.

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Were you injured in an accident caused by an inattentive driver? If so, let us help you understand your legal options. Call us today at (314) 276-1681 or write to us online.

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