Distracted driving has become a major public health risk in Virginia. Drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other road users are all placed in danger when a driver is distracted. Distraction has become even more pervasive as smart phones, navigation systems, and in-vehicle information and entertainment systems have become almost universal.
Some drivers make efforts to mitigate the dangers of distraction by relying on hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth headsets and in-vehicle voice dialing. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about how safe these hands-free devices actually are.
The Dangers of Cognitive Distractions
Many different studies have explored the safety of handheld devices versus hands-free devices. Consistently, the results of these studies have shown that hands-free devices still result in driver distraction. This is because use of a hands-free device still requires cognitive effort on the part of a driver. Even without the physical demands of using a handheld device, the driver’s attention is diverted from the road.
One such study conducted in England was reported by Live Science. There, researchers found that hands-free users had slower reaction times to hazards and were also less likely to react to the hazards at all. Eye tracking data showed that participants saw the hazards but still failed to react to them. This finding has disturbing implications for drivers in real-life traffic situations. The hazards they fail to react to might be a small child in the road, a pedestrian in a wheelchair, or a bicyclist who has no opportunity to avoid colliding with the vehicle.
Perhaps even more concerning than the dangers of hands-free devices is the scope of public misconceptions about them. Forbes reports on a poll performed by the National Safety Council that found that 80 percent of respondents incorrectly believed that using a hands-free device was safer than using a handheld device. In reporting this statistic, the NSC noted that more than thirty studies have disproved this misconception. Unfortunately, state and local laws have not helped to correct this erroneous belief.
No state has banned hands-free devices from being used while driving. Here in Virginia, existing laws further complicate the issue of cell phone use while driving. Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from any cell phone use while driving, and all drivers are prohibited from texting while driving. But cell phones may be used for calls or navigation. As a result, the texting ban is difficult for police officers to enforce. The Washington Post notes that any driver can claim that the phone was being used for a lawful purpose in order to escape the penalties of a texting violation.
Regardless of state laws or hands-free device use, Virginia drivers have a legal obligation to drive with due care. A violation of this duty can result in a negligent driver having a legal obligation to compensate injury victims for the losses caused by distracted driving. Our Roanoke car accident attorneys have helped many injury victims secure the compensation that the law provides for injuries and losses caused by an accident.