Just what is “distracted driving” on Massachusetts’ roads?

The term "distracted driving" is ubiquitous in our society. Everyone has heard the term on the news, seen articles about it online or read about it in their preferred newspaper. The epidemic of distracted driving has been analyzed, studied and discussed from many angles and from a number of different perspectives.

In spite of all the attention given to it, some people might not know what the term exactly means, assuming that it only refers to talking on a cell phone or texting. That is definitely not the case.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives - on the federal government's official safe driving web resource, Distraction.gov - a much broader definition of distracted driving than just chatting or sending text messages. The NHTSA says that it is "any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving." Sure, sending or reading text messages will definitely divert the driver's attention away from the road, but so will:

  • Eating a quick lunch while driving between meetings
  • Looking down to turn the radio, put in a CD or pull up a playlist on an mp3 player
  • Animated discussions with passengers, particularly if there are multiple passengers
  • Tipping back the cup to get those last few sips of coffee during a busy commute
  • Reading a GPS, navigation system, map or printed turn-by-turn instructions
  • Checking email on a laptop or tablet
  • "Checking in" to a social media site
  • Grooming activities like putting on make-up, brushing hair or shaving with an electric razor

Legislative action

Even after recognizing the widely varied activities that can all constitute distracted driving, neither the NHTSA nor any state-level agencies (in Massachusetts or elsewhere in the nation) has passed laws aimed at discouraging an array of different distracting activities. States - Massachusetts included - have instead limited their distracted driving laws solely to texting or using hand-held cell phones behind the wheel.

Massachusetts has actually gone farther than some states, though, banning texting while driving for everyone; other jurisdictions have only banned it for novice drivers. Massachusetts also prohibits both novice drivers (generally considered those under the age of 20) and bus/transit drivers from using either hand-held or hands-free cell phones while driving. Violating any of the texting or cell phone-related laws is a primary offense, meaning that a driver can be pulled over and ticketed solely for that offense, with no need for an additional traffic violation to have also occurred (like the way several other states' legislative schemes require).

The tragic consequences

Every day people die due to distracted driving-related accidents; an average of 3,300 are killed every year. There are also nearly 400,000 injuries directly linked to distracted drivers annually across the nation. The National Safety Council estimates that a distraction-related motor vehicle accident happens every 30 seconds.

Taking these startling statistics into account, it is not surprising if you or someone you love has been injured by a distracted driver. If you have been injured in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, or if you have tragically lost someone you care about it, you have rights. To learn more about your legal avenues for holding the at-fault driver accountable for his or her actions, contact a Massachusetts personal injury attorney.