I remember it like it was yesterday. I was riding to school in the 1980’s with a man, who, for purposes of this post, I will call my dad. He was steering the car with his knee while shaving and eating oatmeal out of a mug. It was magical multitasking, before the word became part of our everyday vernacular. To this day I wonder how he was so talented. And why he has never been in an accident.
Fast forward to a future where road signs and public campaigns encourage us to avoid specific distractions like texting while driving. In 2008, Washington State made it an infraction to operate a wireless communication device and a motor vehicle at the same time. I know, this is child’s play compared to what I just described, but this law was passed because studies show that distracted driving tends to cause accidents. For most people, multitasking is difficult. Especially when a person is trying to focus on two things that involve the same stimuli, such as visual or audible perception. According to a communications professor at Ohio State University, people’s brains appeared to be overwhelmed and their performance "plummeted" when they drove and texted at the same time. I wish they could have studied my dad, er… the man who drove me to school.
Despite this finding, many drivers continue to use cell phones and drive at the same time. In 2014, an estimated 431,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in the United States. It is not uncommon for my clients to tell me they were rear-ended by someone who was on their cell phone, either texting or talking.
Even if an accident is not the driver’s fault, but she or he happened to be using a cell phone at the time of the accident, insurance companies may still attempt to deny benefits in a third-party claim or raise premiums in a first-party claim. However, according to state law, accidents involving cell phones should not be used in determining premiums. This doesn’t mean that insurance companies won’t figure out some way to adjust for the higher risk of drivers who text.
Regardless, the best thing that you can do as a driver is to avoid any use of electronics while driving. Put the phone (and oatmeal) down, get both hands on the wheel, and do everything you can to make sure that you are a safe driver. If you do get that important text or call, feel free to pull over to a safe location and respond. State law encourages drivers to find a location where they can operate a phone where their vehicle can "safely remain stationary".