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The Ethics of Distracted Driving

Responsible Practices on the Highway

Are you a distracted driver? If so, read on to learn about important statistics and the ethics of distracted driving. If not, read on to learn the risk you take when driving ahead of, behind, or to the side of a distracted driver.

Distracted driving is driving while performing any activity which could potentially distract a driver from the primary task of operating a vehicle. In theory, it can be anything that could take a driver’s eyes off the road, or mental concentration away from driving.

Many activities fall under the label “distracted driving.” It’s not just driving and texting while talking on your phone. Distracted driving includes driving while shaving, putting on make-up, tending to a pet, and driving while brushing your teeth, to name a few. [I once saw a driver putting on his tie while driving].

Here are some facts to consider the next time you consider drive while distracted.

  • Drivers in their 20s are 24% of drivers in all fatal crashes, but are 27% of the distracted drivers and 33% of the distracted drives that were using cell phones in fatal crashes.

  • Nine percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the crashes.

  • In 2015, there were 3,477 people killed and an estimated additional 391,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

  • In 2015, there were 551 nonoccupants killed in distraction-affected crashes.

  • According to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes of the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of driving blind at 55-mph for the length of an entire football field.

Distracted drivers are, at least during the act, lacking in the very foundation of ethics: Not treating others the way they should want to be treated. The next time you are tempted to text and drive consider that you may be risking not only your own life but others around you. You may be tempting fate by losing concentration, a major cause of road accidents. You may be subject to a stiff fine, damage to your vehicle, and skyrocketing auto insurance premiums.

Distracted drivers violate basic standards of civility. Civility is not peripheral to ethics, dealing mainly with manners, proper etiquette, and politeness. Distracted drivers are irresponsible because their actions place their own self-interests ahead of other drivers. Driving responsibly means to exercise due care behind the wheel and avoid negligence. These are standards of behavior for reasonable drivers in similar situations

When we consider the consequences of distracted driving, we must ask about the rights of those affected. All drivers have an equal right to travel in safety and that include cyclists who are vulnerable to accidents by distracted driving. Pedestrians have a right to cross a street without fear of being hit by a distracted driver. The promotion of safety requires cooperation on the part of all road users.

In California, a new law went into effect in 2017 that drivers must keep their hands on the wheel and off their smartphones – for any reason. The new law builds on distracted driving rules by prohibiting drivers from holding and operating their phones for any purpose – unless the device is mounted to a dashboard or windshield. Even then, it must be activated with only one finger tap or swipe. [I have no idea how this can be enforced!].

The new law covers all smartphones, including mapping applications and music playlists. Existing law already band drivers from texting and calling unless they use a hands-free device.

Before you consider driving while distracted, consider that your actions have consequences and you make harm or kill others, a life-altering experience. If you receive a text message or need to send one, get off the road and find a safe place to do so. You’ll feel better for it in the end and not sacrifice the life or well-being of other motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians.

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