In early March, friends and family gathered to mourn a mother and her two children who were killed when a tractor-trailer struck them in a crosswalk. According to the Chicago Tribute, the mother and her 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son were crossing the street when the truck attempted to make an improper left-hand turn. In a lawsuit brought against the driver and his employer, the driver was accused of using a cellphone at the time of the incident.
The risks associated with distracted driving are enormous, as any personal injury lawyer in McHenry knows too well. Anyone tasked with operating a large vehicle such as a tractor-trailer should be aware of the behaviors that can lead to disaster.
A closer look at distracted driving
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points out that there are three basic ways that distracted driving can affect a vehicle operator. Those are the following:
- Cognitive: These behaviors take the driver’s mind off the road. Even listening to a radio station means the driver is not solely focused on driving.
- Visual: This occurs when drivers take their eyes off the road, such as looking at kids in the backseat or checking a navigation system.
- Manual: When a driver takes a hand off the wheel to reach for something, there is a manual distraction.
Activities can present just one kind of distraction, a combination of several or all three. When it comes to truckers, there are five common distractions that can pose a risk to their own safety and the livelihood of others on the road:
- Cellphone use
As any personal injury lawyer in McHenry would know, cellphone use is one of the most widely discussed, legislated and harmful activities any driver could do while behind the wheel. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, regulations specifically prohibit commercial motor vehicle truckers from texting while driving. Under the law, texting includes emailing, browsing the web on a cellphone or pressing more than one button to trigger a voice command function.
Texting or talking on the phone while driving poses a triple-threat of distraction because it incorporates cognitive, visual and manual behaviors. According to Distraction.gov, drivers who text spend an average of five seconds with their eyes off the road. A truck driver moving at 55 miles per hour can cover the length of a football field in that amount of time.
Hands-free devices are not free from risk, either. One California driver safety technology company conducted a study that examined the distractions truckers face. Researchers placed a device that sensed and recorded risky driving events such as swerving or speeding inside cabs. They found that hands-free phone use ranked at the top of the list, causing 32 percent of all risky events that could lead to a trucking accident.
- Other devices
Cellphones are not the only device truckers may employ while on the road. Navigation systems, two-way radios and even the car’s radio all serve as a distraction. Erie Insurance conducted a study that found 1 percent of all fatal distractions involved behaviors that would appear simple, such as turning up the volume on the radio or adjusting the temperature inside the vehicle. Each of these activities has the potential to take a driver’s focus off the road in a cognitive, manual or visual way.
Truckers spend long hours on the road and often operate on a tight deadline. That leads to eating meals on the road, which may seem like a time-saver but can actually do more harm than good. Reaching into a paper bag for a sandwich will take a hand off the wheel and a driver’s eyes off the road.
The NHTSA reports that drivers reportedly eat during 30 percent of all trips they take, accounting for 1.25 billion car rides each week. The association reports that taking a meal on the road can increase the likelihood of an accident by 80 percent. However, only 17 percent of people believe that eating is a distracted driving behavior, according to the report.
- Reaching for items
Whenever drivers take their hands off the wheel, there is the potential for an accident to occur. Therefore, reaching for something in the passenger seat or the rear of a cab poses a risk to truckers. The manual distraction is compounded by a driver who visually takes an eye off the road to look for the item.
- Other occupants or people outside
It may sound shocking, but having someone else on board can serve as a distraction. For many truck drivers, a passenger is helpful in splitting the driving time and providing conversation during long hauls. However, talking with or looking at someone else in a vehicle can be distracting. The Erie Insurance study found that 5 percent of people in fatal car accidents were occupied with their passengers.
The same goes for people outside the vehicle. Passing a wreck on the highway can prove tempting for drivers who want to see the damage, but looking can be deadly. Roughly 7 percent of fatal accidents in Erie Insurance’s report associated the accident with looking at someone or something outside the vehicle.
Any drivers who focus on something other than driving pose a threat to safety. The problem is especially dangerous for truckers, who operate oversized vehicles that can carry hazardous materials. Anyone involved in a distracted driving incident should consult with a personal injury lawyer in McHenry.