A recent alarming study revealed that 98% of drivers understand how dangerous it is to text and drive, and yet 75% of them still engage in this hazardous behavior. Knowing perfectly well that they could seriously injure or even kill someone by doing so, they continue to text and drive. This means that no amount of education and increased awareness is going to save lives when it comes to texting and driving. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we should stop trying to educate drivers on the risks, but it does mean that we can’t count on that education to change how many people are injured and killed by this activity.
Why Education Doesn’t Stop Texting and Driving Injuries and Deaths
The biggest reason that educating drivers about the risks associated with texting and driving is largely ineffective is
because people tend to think that they are the exception to the rule. A lot of drivers will acknowledge that texting and driving is dangerous, and even deadly; but in the same breath, they will express their confidence in their own ability to safely text and drive and complete any number of other distracting tasks without causing harm.
A prime example of this is found in the parents who prohibit their teen drivers from texting while driving, but model the opposite behavior by doing so themselves. People often think that others are less capable than themselves, when the reality is that everyone who texts and drives is at risk of causing an accident because of their distractions. When you’re not looking at the road, it doesn’t really matter how much experience you have with driving. Decades of driving experience won’t give you the ability to see when your eyes are closed (or distracted by texting).
The Compulsive Need to View and Respond to Text Messages
Even if a driver acknowledges that he or she is no safer while texting and driving than anyone else, they may still engage in this behavior because viewing and responding to text messages becomes a kind of compulsion for almost everyone. Every time you receive a text message, your brain responds by releasing hormones that make you feel good (dopamine). This is addictive, and is the same reason that people become addicted to drugs that cause the same hormonal release, though drug use tends to have a stronger hold on the brain.
Still, recognizing that texting affects the same hormones in your brain that are affected by smoking cigarettes or doing harmful illegal drugs can help you to understand why it’s so hard to not look at your phone when you hear a text come in. It is then difficult not to respond to those messages in an effort to keep the messages coming in and keep the dopamine flowing. Once you understand these issues, you may be able to take steps to get around them. If you find that you are far too tempted to view and respond to text messages, then you may need to actually turn off your phone while driving to avoid putting yourself and others at risk.
Legislation Against Texting and Driving is More Effective than Education
Other studies have revealed that legislation is far more effective at preventing texting and driving auto accidents than any educational efforts and campaigns. The American Journal of Public Health conducted a study over the course of 11 years and discovered that whenever states passed legislation to prevent texting and driving, those states were preventing about 20 texting and driving related auto accident deaths each year.
The downside to such legislation is that drivers who decide to text and drive anyway are more motivated to hide the fact that they are doing it. This means that they are not only distracted from the road by their texting, but also by the need to keep an eye out for police who might catch them doing it. Still, if such legislation saves as many as 20 people every year from a tragic auto accident death, then it is certainly worthwhile.
Texting and Driving Laws in North and South Carolina
In North Carolina and South Carolina, it is illegal to text and drive unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as emergencies. There is a loophole, however. There is no law against holding a handheld device while driving unless you are under 18. In South Carolina, there is no law against holding a handheld device while driving at all. There have been proposals and efforts to change this, in an effort to prevent any kind of distractions from handheld devices while driving. Even so, the bans on texting and driving are primary laws, so that the police can pull you over if they see you texting or think you are texting, and they don’t have to have another reason to pull you over, such as erratic driving. Even if you are driving perfectly well, looking at your phone could get you pulled over. While you might be able to deny that you were texting, your phone being open to a recently sent text message could prove you a liar.
What To Do After a Texting and Driving Auto Accident
If you’ve been involved in an auto accident that was caused by a driver who was texting and driving, and therefore distracted, then you can file a claim for compensation with their auto insurance policy. Further, that driver will likely face legal consequences. Yet, it can be difficult to prove that someone was actually texting and driving. It is possible to get their phone records or view the data on their phones or their social media accounts. If you or someone else saw them texting, then testimony to that effect could help. If the person is caught with their phone in their hand, especially open to a text message, then this could make a major difference in proving your claim. Contact the Elrod Pope Law Firm to learn more.
Thomas E. Pope is a Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Medical Malpractice Attorney who practices in Rock Hill, Lake Wylie, and Lancaster, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 31 years now. Thomas E. Pope believes in protecting the injured. Learn more about his experience here.