It is a fact that whenever anyone gets behind the wheel of a vehicle, he or she is responsible for a potential of major destruction, to others or themselves.
This is something that is clearly underappreciated. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s latest numbers show pedestrians injured in motor vehicle accidents were up 19 percent from a year ago.
Of course, drinking alcohol plays are large part in many wrecks. The NHTSA reports 48 percent of all accidents involved drunk drivers or pedestrians. Residents of the Lone Star State have long reveled in bragging that everything is bigger in Texas, but that unfortunately is also the case when it comes to drunk-driving deaths. Texas leads the country in this dubious category, averaging about 1,000 a year.
Small wonder why the Texas Department of Transportation recently launched “The Faces of Drunk Driving”, detailing the dangers of driving to the public.
But a rapidly emerging factor in traffic accidents is not booze, but cell phones. The National Safety Council states that 23 percent of all vehicle crashes involve cell phone use, causing 1.3 million wrecks across the country. In 2010, well over 3,000 crashes in Texas were attributed to someone being on a cell phone. Another statistic shows chatting on the phone — or texting — when driving can increase the likelihood of a crash up to 23 times. Even hands-free devices do not help much, as the conversation can have a negative effective on driver concentration.
Distracted driving has become a national issue, with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently calling it “a national epidemic.” Most states ban texting while driving, while a handful prohibit both texting and hand-held cellphone use on the road.
In Texas, the Legislature last year passed a statewide ban on texting while driving. It was already a no-no in Austin and other places, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill. “(It’s) a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults,” the Governor said.
Cell-phone use while driving can prove quite costly to the perpetrator. A Washington Post story said a Florida family was awarded $21 million after a woman was killed in a cell-phone related wreck. And after a Coca Cola sales person plowed into a woman while chatting on the phone and driving, a Texas jury ordered Coca Cola to pay the victim $21 million in damages. She suffered nerve damage to her back in the mishap.
Lawyers are becoming more aggressive in going after people — and their employers in certain circumstances — regarding these accidents. And as the dangers of cell-phone use while driving becomes more of an issue to the public, this trend probably will not slow down.