Idaho’s hands-free cell phone law went into effect on July 1st, 2020. As a result, many Idahoans must now learn to leave their handheld devices down while they are behind the wheel of an automobile. Since it is now illegal to operate a moving vehicle while using any hand-held device, this begs the question, will it make Idaho’s roads safer? For most people, the obvious answer is yes. Having a law on the books to make it easier for people to concentrate on the road ahead should definitely have a positive impact on the safety of Idaho’s streets, highways and interstates.
Yet unfortunately, many people will continue to break the law when it comes to cell phone use while driving. We’ve all seen it multiple times. Just sitting at a stop light in Boise, you will see many cars pass through the intersection, while the driver is looking at their phone. We see it almost every time we are out driving around. While the new law should reign in some of this distracted driving activity, it certainly will not prevent all accidents from happening.
Distracted driving is the leading cause of automobile accidents in the United States.
Car accidents are very common in Idaho and the rest of the country as a whole. According to several studies performed over the last decade, distracted driving is hands-down the leading cause of automobile accidents in the United States. While many things can distract a driver, the leading cause of distraction is the cell phone.
Yet, many still think that looking down at their phone for a few seconds to read, or write a text is really not a big deal. But, it really is a big deal. Say you’re traveling down Eagle Road at 55 miles per hour: looking at your phone for just 5 seconds, is the equivalent of traveling the entire length of a football field, essentially with your eyes closed. This creates a dangerous situation for yourself and the other drivers on the road.
The consequences of distracted driving are something that should be taken very seriously. In 2018 alone, 2,841 were killed in accidents resulting from distracted driving in the United States. The same year, an estimated 400,000 people suffered severe injuries in accidents caused by distracted drivers. In the same study, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that 2.9% of drivers in the US are using cellphones while driving.
All of this means that even if you are not looking at your phone while driving, you need to be on the lookout for other motorists who may not be paying attention to the road. This should always be the case if you want to drive defensively and prevent yourself from becoming involved in an automobile accident with another distracted driver.
The difference between physical and mental distractions while driving.
The National Safety Council and the Centers for Disease Control have identified three distinct types of distractions posed to drivers on the road.
- Visual Distractions: These are distractions which actually take the driver’s eyes off of the road. They can include distractions such as looking at a cell phone, looking at a GPS or navigation system, looking at a back seat passenger or watching in-vehicle entertainment.
- Manual Distractions: These distractions cover when a driver takes one or both hands off of the steering wheel. This can include eating, drinking, adjusting the radio or air conditioning settings. Personal grooming, such as putting on makeup, combing or brushing your hair, shaving or even trimming your fingernails are also covered in this type of distraction.
- Cognitive Distractions: Anything that takes the mental focus away from driving, such as having a conversation with a passenger, or on the other end of the phone or even daydreaming while driving. All of these can shift the focus away from the road.
The most dangerous conditions for driving are activities that combine two, or more of the above listed types of distractions. Texting while driving takes all three of these types of distractions as you have your eyes off the road (visual), at least one hand off the wheel (manual) and the mental focus is shifted away from driving (cognitive).
Hands-free cellphone devices still shift attention and focus away from driving.
The debate over hands-free cell phone driving laws has been feverishly active for at least the last decade. On one hand, data from the NSC and Insurance Federation found that in 12 of 15 states that had hands-free laws in place, traffic fatalities decreased by an average of 15 percent. This statistic looks promising at face-value, yet it doesn’t offer the full picture of whether or not using a hands-free device while driving is safer than a handheld device.
One study published in 2007, took into account a total of 125 different studies on distracted driving. These studies included driver surveys, experiments, driving data, studies of crash risks and evaluations of laws that limit driver cell phone usage. These studies found no data to suggest that using a hands-free device was any safer than using a handheld device. In conclusion, the study’s authors wrote:
“Even if total compliance with bans on drivers’ hand-held cell phone use can be achieved, crash risk will remain to the extent that drivers continue to use or switch to hands-free phones.”
Anne T. Mccartt, Laurie A. Hellinga & Keli A. Bratiman (2006) Cell Phones and Driving: Review of Research, Traffic Injury Prevention, 7:2, 89-106, DOI: 10.1080/15389580600651103
In either case, it is clear that the use of any type of handheld or hands free device while driving will greatly increase the risk of an accident. Idaho’s new hands-free cell phone law will not prevent all distracted driving accidents, but it may reduce them. Only time will tell. While you may have both hands on the wheel, an accident can still occur if your attention is focused on a conversation, rather than the road ahead.
If you have been injured in an automobile accident involving a distracted driver, Boise personal injury attorney Chris Caldwell is ready to examine the details of your wreck and explain your rights and your legal options. He has represented both survivors and families who have lost loved ones to deadly crashes in Idaho and Washington. As always, your initial consultation is free and we can help you decide the next step forward for your case.
Call the Boise personal injury attorneys at Caldwell Law Group PLLC: (208) 743-5299 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.