Imagine living – and driving – in a state that ranks in the top 10 nationwide among the worst states for distracted driving. That should be easy as a North Dakotan, as the state ranked seventh on the 2021 list from the website “WhistleOut.com.”
The site used distracted driving fatalities data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as well as the results of the 2018 and 2019 distracted driving studies from Zendrive to compile the rankings.
When you are operating a vehicle, your primary focus should be on the task at hand. However, as the data from the NHTSA indicates, that is not always the case in North Dakota or other areas of the country. In fact, in 2019, distracted driving claimed more than 3,000 lives on American roads – and that statistic only includes the fatal accidents. How many other accidents occurred where someone was seriously injured due to a distracted driver? When a driver is distracted, it puts everyone at risk.
What is distracted driving?
Distracted driving is described as any activity that takes a driver’s attention away from the act of driving. More specifically, since August 1, 2017, North Dakota law has defined distracted driving as “any distraction that impairs the ability to safely operate the vehicle,” according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT).
The NDDOT organizes the various types of distractions into three categories:
- Visual distractions. These are any and all distractions that require you to take your eyes off the road, even for a few seconds.
- Manual distractions. These distractions occur when you take your hands off the wheel while operating a motor vehicle.
- Cognitive distractions. Cognitive, or mental, distractions happen any time you take your mind off your main task of driving in order to focus your attention on something else – whether that is something occurring in the vehicle, on the roadside (such as when passing the scene of an accident), or on the radio, just to name a few examples.
What are the most common driver distractions?
Anything can be a distraction, of course, from darting wildlife to thinking about a particularly tough day at work. The most common activities that distract drivers include:
- Using a cell phone to text or talk
- Talking with passengers
- Changing the radio station
- Eating food
- Refereeing arguments or altercations between children – particularly those in the backseat
- Comforting a crying baby in its safety seat
- Applying makeup or performing other acts related to personal grooming
- Adjusting the vehicle’s mirrors
While some of the activities on this list may seem obvious, the final item may come as a surprise. After all, having the mirrors in the proper locations is important for safety. However, the act of adjusting the mirrors requires the driver to take their eyes off the road and at least one hand off the steering wheel. This, coupled with the driver focusing their attention on identifying the correct position for the mirror or mirrors, makes adjusting the vehicle’s mirrors a potentially dangerous distraction. This is why any good driver’s ed class tells you to adjust your mirrors before you start driving.
What is the most common cause of distracted driving?
One of the most common causes of distracted driving in the U.S. is texting. While mobile phones initially served as tools for safety in the event of a motor vehicle accident or other roadside emergency, they have become hazards in their own right, due to the manner in which drivers often use them. As cell phones have grown in popularity, so too have the number of drivers who now use their phones while driving – particularly for texting.
However, while texting is the most common use of a hand-held cell phone while driving, it is far from the only dangerous way drivers use these devices. According to the 2021 Traveler’s Risk Index, a nationwide survey of more than 1,000 people regarding “the perception of risk in their daily lives” that was conducted by insurance company Travelers Companies, Inc., an increasing number of drivers admit to using their cell phones while driving.
- Texting or emailing. In the 2021 Travelers Risk Index, 26% of respondents admitted to texting or emailing while driving.
- Checking social media. The addictive powers of social media continue to rear their ugly head – now while driving. Per the survey conducted by Travelers, 20% of respondents said they use social media platforms such as Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook, TikTok and Twitter while driving.
- Taking photos and videos. 19% of respondents to the 2021 Travelers Risk Index survey admitted they use their phones to take photos or record videos while behind the wheel.
- Online shopping. The saying “shop ‘til you drop” may have to be updated to “shop ‘til you crash,” since 17% of survey respondents said they shop online while driving.
Any time a driver uses a handheld device such as a mobile phone while driving it can have deadly consequences. When a driver’s eyes are not on the road, their attention is not on driving, and both hands are not on the wheel, the chances of a traffic accident increase, putting drivers, passengers, other motorists, and pedestrians at risk of being seriously injured or even killed.
Is texting while driving really that dangerous?
In a word: yes. Texting while driving is considered the most common and most dangerous reason for distracted driving. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), distracted driving is especially prevalent among younger drivers aged 15 to 19, particularly when it involves the use of a mobile phone while driving.
Is distracted driving illegal in North Dakota?
Yes, distracted driving is illegal in North Dakota. As of August 1, 2017, any driver who is distracted and commits a traffic violation as a result can be given a $100 citation for distracted driving. There are also laws regulating electronic devices for all drivers and for drivers of specific ages:
- Drivers of all ages. Texting while driving is against the law for drivers of any age. The violation carries a $100 fine.
- Drivers under the age of 18. Per the NDDOT, drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using any electronic communications device, including cell phones. For drivers aged 14 and 15, the law carries a $20 fine and four points on their driving record. For 16-and-17-year-old drivers, the law carries a $20 fine and no points on their driving record.
The state of North Dakota intends for these regulations to serve as deterrents to distracted driving. However, even a $100 fine is paltry when compared with the potentially deadly outcome of an accident caused by a distracted driver.
If you were involved in a motor vehicle accident caused by a distracted driver – or if you have reason to believe distracted driving contributed to your accident – contact a Minot personal injury lawyer experienced in distracted driving cases immediately. The car accident lawyers at Larson Law Firm, P.C. stand ready to fight on your behalf. With offices in Minot, Fargo and Bismarck, we have secured compensation for victims in car accident cases throughout North Dakota. Call us at 701-484-HURT or complete our contact form today to schedule a free consultation. We handle all accident cases on a contingency fee basis.
Mark Larson is a Certified Civil Trial Specialist and Certified Civil Pre-Trial Specialist focusing on personal injury, motor vehicle, wrongful death, and oil field claims. Since 1979, Larson Law Firm has served the injured throughout North Dakota. Read more about Mark V. Larson