Most drivers know that texting behind the wheel is dangerous. By looking at a smartphone screen instead of the road, you're putting your life and the lives at others at risk. You might take your eyes off the road for a few seconds to read a text message and end up rear-ending the car in front of you. If you're typing a text message while driving, you may drift into another lane and cause a head-on collision.
Talking on a cell phone while driving doesn't seem quite as dangerous as texting, but it's still a problem. You can keep your eyes on the road, but you need to keep one hand on the phone. That's why both texting and using handheld devices are against the law in New Mexico.
So, maybe you think you're safe by using a hands-free device. Your hands are on the wheel and you're looking at the road ahead. It's perfectly legal. No problem, right?
A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that drivers who use hands-free devices to have phone conversations or to send texts using voice commands are at risk of causing accidents. That's because they are experiencing what researchers call "cognitive" distractions - the driver's brain is not focused on driving the vehicle.
Distraction Persists After the Light Turns Green
One particularly troubling finding from the AAA Foundation study is that the distraction persists after completing a task. If you're talking on a hands-free device, you're not only distracted during use, but also for as long as 27 seconds after using a voice command.
For instance, some drivers might think it's perfectly safe to send a voice command while waiting at a red light. But, according to the study, such drivers will be distracted for nearly a half minute, long after the light turns green.
That's a long time, even at slow speeds. In 27 seconds at 25 mph, you'll travel the length of three football fields.
Here's an important statement from Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety:
The lasting effects of mental distraction pose a hidden and pervasive danger that would likely come as a surprise to most drivers. The results indicate that motorists could miss stop signs, pedestrians and other vehicles while the mind is readjusting to the task of driving.
Attorney Andras Szantho has handled many cases involving distracted drivers causing accidents. Indeed, distracted driving, including cell phone use, is far and away the most common cause of accidents in our state: According to the New Mexico Department of Transportation, 23 percent of crashes are caused by distracted drivers. That's as many as the next two leading causes - failure to yield and following too closely - put together.
Without question, drivers who pay attention to anything other than the road are at a higher risk of causing accidents. This recent study clearly shows that drivers continue to be distracted for a period of time after they're done using their devices.
If you do need to make a call or send a text while driving, pull over to a safe location to do so. After you're done speaking, take a few moments to allow your mind to readjust to the important task of safely operating your vehicle.