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Distracted driving is deadly driving.

Almost every driver on the road today is guilty of answering a text message, taking a phone call, reaching into the backseat for a child or pet, or doing part of their morning beauty regimen behind the wheel of their car. And while these small distractions feel like just that — small distractions — the consequences of even the most minor distractions can be fatal.

All too often, the victims of distracted driving are cyclists who are simply riding their bikes in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even with proper safety gear on and following every law, a cyclist hit by a distracted driver can easily be killed by the force of a collision with a car. And if they are not killed, they can still face severe injuries, medical bills, and long term psychological suffering that can follow them for the rest of their lives.

Distracted driving is a completely preventable occurrence, and once drivers take it seriously, we will save thousands of lives every year. The more you educate yourself about this increasingly common threat, the safer you — and everyone around you — will be on the road.

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving is any driving that happens when you are manually, visually, or cognitively distracted from the task of driving. Here’s what each of those means:

  • Manual distraction. This is anything that causes you to take your hand(s) off of the steering wheel, like reaching for something that you dropped on the floor or eating a sandwich.
  • Visual distraction. This is anything that causes you to take your eyes off the road, such as looking at your phone or turning around to talk to someone in the backseat.
  • Cognitive distraction. This is anything that causes you to take your mind off the task of driving and shift your focus elsewhere, like having a conversation with a passenger.

While most people consider themselves effective multitaskers, the truth is that we simply are not, especially when it comes to driving. Despite how relatively “easy” it feels, driving actually takes a lot of thought and focus, and depriving yourself of full thought and focus makes you far less capable of predicting and avoiding danger.

When your mind is elsewhere — on a phone call, thinking of a reply to a text message and typing it out — studies have shown that you are missing as much as 50% of what is going on around you.

In fact, another study showed that drivers using a cell phone actually had slower reaction times than drivers who had a blood alcohol level of .08, the legal intoxication level.

The scary thing about distracted driving is that it doesn’t feel that scary. Drivers do it because it feels like no big deal, despite the fact that as many as 3000 people per year are killed as a result.

What you can do to save lives

The most important thing you can do the prevent deaths due to distracted driving is to take action in your own day-to-day life.

Some of the most impactful actions you can take today:

Don’t text or take phone calls while driving, and speak up if you are a passenger in a car where the driver is giving in to distraction. Breaking bad habits is hard, so this one won’t be easy. It can be hard to critique your friends or decide not to reply to a message you really want to reply to. However, isn’t saving a life (including your own) worth it?

Don’t give in to the lie of “safer” hands-free devices. These supposedly better options still allow drivers to be distracted with calls and screen time, which keeps their eyes and minds off the road. Although it might not be “as bad” as holding a phone in your hand, drivers are still distracted both cognitively and visually by their devices.

Pull over if you need to take a call, consult a map, reach into the backseat… Anything that might take your hands off the wheel, or your mind or eyes off the road, shouldn’t be done while your car is in motion. Pulling over for 10 seconds could save a life, and costs you almost nothing.

Don’t distract other drivers. If you know someone is driving, try to avoid calling or texting or emailing them. Avoiding the temptation of the phone is hard, and you’ll help other people make good choices by not giving them the option of distraction if you can help it.

At Bay Area Bicycle Law, we are doing our part by sharing this information about distracted driving and working with drivers to help them make the best possible decisions on the road.

We represent cyclists who have been involved in accidents with cars every day, and we don’t want to see anyone injured or killed in a completely preventable accident where the driver was simply distracted.

On top of that, we see this as one of the most critical issues of our time. Just like drivers used to rarely put on a seat belt, or buckle their kids into a car seat, or see a problem with getting behind the wheel drunk — things that we all see as ridiculous and unacceptable today — distracted driving should become a thing of our past.

Drivers should consider sending a text message while driving just as irresponsible as drinking a cocktail.

Distracted driving doesn’t feel like a big problem in the moment. There is always a good excuse. “It’ll only take a second to reply to this.” “I need to check this map really quick.” “I have to talk to my boss and don’t have time to pull over.”

But how worthwhile is that text message or phone call if it causes a crash where you or someone else is seriously injured or killed? Almost anything can wait in order to prevent that.

Join us in our fight against distracted driving. If you have questions or if you have been injured in a case of distracted driving, please contact us: 415-466-8717, or use our contact form.