Distracted Drivers and Auto Accidents


Although it is common knowledge that distracted drivers are more likely to make errors in judgment that lead to an accident, some amount of distraction is unavoidable. By respecting their own limits, and planning ahead, drivers can minimize the hazard posed by distractions.

Distractions Inside the Car

Many distractions within a car are under the control of the driver, and the driver should attempt to minimize any such distractions. Examples include:

  • Smart Phone Usage - Although it is common to use cellular phones while driving, drivers should take care when dialing that they are still giving appropriate attention to the road and, when road conditions or the act of driving requires, should be prepared to put their conversation on hold. Drivers should not send text messages or browse the internet while driving, and should not watch videos, play games, catch up on their email, or use similarly distracting features of their smart phones.

  • Dropped Items - Drivers should avoid trying to pick up items dropped to the floor of a car while the car is in motion. If a dropped object may become lodged in the pedals, the driver should exercise appropriate care to prevent that from happening, if necessary pulling over and stopping in order to recover the object.

  • Eating - The act of eating can be distracting, as can the consequence of dropping food. Ideally, drivers will eat before they drive or during a break from driving.

  • Exhaustion - A tired driver is more likely to lose focus while driving. An exhausted driver may fall asleep at the wheel. Within the context of motorcycle accidents, sleepiness can be as dangerous as alcohol consumption.

  • Reading - Books, maps, directions, and other written materials are best read when a car is at a full stop.

    Use of Computers, DVD Players and PDA's - Some electronic devices require so much attention that drivers simply should not attempt to use them while driving.

  • Application of Make-Up - It is not appropriate for the driver of a vehicle to apply make-up while the vehicle is in motion.

  • Children - Kids can be very distracting to drivers, particularly when they are bored, upset, or surprised, Children can also suddenly yell inappropriate things, like "Stop!", without understanding how such declarations can affect the driver of a car.

  • Use of the Radio, CD Player or Music Player - Drivers should not let themselves be distracted by adjusting a radio or music player, or changing CDs uwhile driving.

    Distractions Outside the Car

    Sometimes events outside of the car can be very distracting, or will require that a driver exercise some self-discipline to avoid becoming distracted. Examples include:

  • Accidents - Following an accident, traffic tends to slow at the accident scene while the road is clear, but often will remain unduly slow as "rubber-neckers" pay more attention to the accident than they do to the roadway ahead of them. In some cases, rubber-neckers in an oncoming traffic lane have caused accidents while trying to see the aftermath of an accident on the other side of a street or highway.

  • Construction - Driving through a construction zone may be confusing, particularly when traffic must detour. Activity along the roadway, merge points, unexpected traffic backups, and the presence of heavy machinery may increase the possibility of a motor vehicle accident. Aggressive drivers can cause accidents as they attempt to pass cars or merge at the last possible moment.

  • Emergency Vehicles - Unexpected sirens, or the presence of an emergency vehicle on the roadway with its lights flashing, can be surprising. Drivers should respect the presence of emergency vehicles, and should yield to them as required by law.

  • Pedestrian Conduct - Sometimes the conduct of people at the side of the roadway, or even in the roadway, will become an undue point of focus for a driver, distracting the driver from other vehicles.

  • Stop-and-Start Traffic - Boredom from being stuck in stop-and-start traffic can cause a driver's attention to drift, increasing the risk of a rear-end collision.

Minimizing Distraction

To the extent possible, drivers should attempt to minimize distraction such that they can give sufficient focus and attention to the act of driving. Some advance planning, such as having the desired playlist queued up on a music player, waiting until the car is stopped to dial a cellular phone, or having suitable distractions for bored kids, can help avoid distractions while on the road.

When distractions are unexpected or unavoidable, drivers should recognize how the distraction is affecting their ability to drive in a safe and appropriate manner. If necessary, a driver may be well-served by pulling over and stopping the car until the distraction is resolved.

Liability for a Car Accident from Distracted Driving

When a driver who is involved in a motor vehicle accident is distracted from the road at the time of the accident, even if another driver shares fault for the accident, the distracted driver is likely to be held at least partially responsible for the accident. In many cases the distracted driver will be primarily or exclusively at fault for an accident. Distracted drivers may thus end up being sued for causing accidents or, even when not totally at fault, have their recovery for their own share of the fault deducted from their recovery for their injuries or property damages or, in some states, have their significant shared fault used as a basis to deny them recovery.

Employers already face liability for the negligence of their employees while they are on the job, and can increase their exposure by not having appropriate safety rules in place. Employers must be aware of the hazards of distracted driving, and should impose and enforce rules designed to minimize the likelihood of their employees driving while distracted, while also providing appropriate supervision and enforcement to ensure that the rules are followed. Employers should also take care not to create rules that increase the likelihood of distracted driving, such as requiring employees to answer phone calls or respond to texts while they are on the road.

Copyright © 2006 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Jul 18, 2016.