Across California, traffic accidents have been steadily increasing. California, including the San Francisco Bay Area, has now suffered two consecutive years of unfortunate dramatic increases in traffic fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Sadly, there has also been a nationwide increase in distracted driving traffic accidents and deaths. California has also witnessed a spike in driving and resulting crashes caused by drivers under the influence of either illegal or legal drugs, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) and also included in California legal code VEH statute 23123.5. Below is an overview and statistics of distracted driving in California, including the Bay Area. The following outline comprises different forms of distracted driving, measures to address the issues, the traffic fatality crisis, and what to do after an accident involving a distracted driver, including why to seek the guidance of a seasoned Bay Area car accident attorney.
What is distracted driving and what forms can it take?
According to the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving. Such actions include but are not limited to texting or talking on smartphones, eating and drinking, conversing with passengers, fiddling with music, entertainment, or navigation systems — and anything that diverts your attention from driving safely.
California had the most deaths due to distracted driving of any state, according to NHTSA’s 2018 report. Unfortunately, the issue has remained a substantial concern. 74.3% of Californians cited distracted driving as the most significant safety threat on California’s roads in a 2021 OTS survey. Electronics use while driving is the main culprit in California’s distracted driving crisis. Distracted driving derived from electronic use jumped 2.2% from one year to the next, as reported by the 2017 CA Statewide Observational Survey of Cell Phone & Texting Use by Drivers released by the OTS. 59.6% of California drivers participating in the California Traffic Safety Survey reported being hit or narrowly missed by a driver talking or texting. Direct hits or near misses can trigger multi-vehicle accidents, pedestrian traffic fatalities, and driver and passenger severe injuries and death. There were 3,179 deaths and 431,000 injuries caused by distracted driving back in 2014, as reported by Distracted.gov. More recently, the California Highway Patrol issued over 55,850 citations for distracted driving, including 56 distracted drivers who passed away in fatal crashes and over 6,300 severe injuries in 2021. The Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) found more than 13,000 accidents caused by driver inattention (associated with distracted driving) in 2021.
Impaired Driving Leads to Distraction and Chaos
50% of all California drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes who were tested, tested positive for legal and or illegal drugs, an increase of 8% from 2018. In 2019, California’s total alcohol-impaired driving fatalities came at the cost of 949 individuals. Data released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety California had 3,847 motor vehicle crash deaths in 2020 — the second highest nationwide. The report also included numbers related to alcohol-impaired driving. Out of 1,550 drivers killed in 2020, 880, or 57%, had their BAC taken, implying a likelihood of drinking and driving. The actual numbers for individuals with a BAC over 0.08 were not available for California.
Negligent Drivers Beware
When found liable for a car accident rooted in negligence, the driver and their insurance company will feel the costs for driving distracted or impaired by drugs or alcohol. Insurance premiums will rise. The driver, in addition to potential summons and fines, could lose their license and potentially face even more significant consequences as well as lawsuits if another individual involved in the accident is critically injured or dies. Chronically negligent drivers likely have a long history of driving violations and points on their records. However, it is possible for anyone, even those with the best intentions, to be distracted while behind the wheel. A California distracted driving accident lawyer can help you if you have been involved in an accident with a distracted driver or you are concerned that you may be responsible for the accident.
California’s Scenic Wildlife — Rich Landscapes Often Equal Disaster
Wildlife vehicle collisions and distracted drivers are a recipe for disaster; human and wildlife fatalities sometimes result in multi-car crashes. The University of California-Davis released a report from their Road Ecology Center on wildlife-vehicle collisions or WVCs. The information included hot spots for these accidents throughout California. The San Francisco Bay Area had thousands of miles of the Bay Area included in its list.
The University alerts drivers to watch for wildlife interactions on the following Bay Area roadways:
- US 101 through Southern Marin County
- State Route 24 and SR 13 through the East Bay
- SR 17 near Lexington Reservoir
Wildlife itself can be a driving distraction. Accidents also occur when drivers stop to admire wildlife and unintentionally create a hazard by blocking the road. Other times, an animal jumps out or crosses a roadway. A distracted driver is more likely to have less reaction time and swerve into oncoming traffic, a divider, or the animal itself. Disastrous accidents, even involving semi-trailers (also known as 18-wheelers, semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, and big rigs) with devastating consequences, damages, and loss of life often occur in these wildlife hotspots. As their habitat shrinks, mountain lions and black bears become more vulnerable to traffic collisions. UC-Davis reported that from 2016 to 2020, more than 300 mountain lions and 557 black bears were struck and killed. Due to the construction of interstates slicing through wildlife home ranges, the Bay Area was identified as a prime region for such types of wildlife-vehicle collisions.
- Pay attention to road signs
- Avoid distractions that would divert your vision from the road
- Mind the speed limit at tight turns
- According to wildlife.com, using your vehicle’s brake system is wiser and less dangerous than attempting to swerve out of the way. Swerving can be particularly dangerous on congested roads when larger vehicles are present and in any form of inclement weather.
Note: According to the NHTSA, reading or typing a text takes your gaze off the roadway for an average of 5 seconds. While moving at 55 mph, this is comparable to driving the span of a football field blindfolded. An animal or other hazard could quickly appear during this window of time. You can only safely drive if you give your full attention to the task.
The Last Text They Ever Sent
Texting is one of the leading forms of distracted driving that triggers accidents and deaths. A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) study found that texting while driving increases your risk of being in a traffic accident by 23 times.
VTTI data also suggests that hands-free electronic devices are less likely to cause accidents than handheld ones. Many drivers consider using voice-to-text to input the name of a song into a music streaming service as hands-free. However, accidents have resulted from these seemingly quick and effortless actions. For example, tapping a few buttons on the navigation screen while driving can lead to an accident, multi-vehicle crash, a fender bender, or a wildlife collision. According to NHTSA statistical findings, distracted driving led to the deaths of 3,142 people and injuries to an estimated 324,652 people in 2020 — a year that overall saw less traffic on roadways due to the Covid-19 pandemic-related lockdowns.
According to an annual survey by The Zebra, an insurance comparison site, 40.4% of Apple users admit to using their phones while driving, which is nearly a 14% increase from 2021 study results. Among Android users, 55.1% admitted to employing their phones while driving.
The NHTSA estimates that 660,000 US drivers use their cell phones while they drive a vehicle at any given time. The decision to pick up your phone while driving affects not only other drivers and passengers on the road, but also non-occupants (bikers, pedestrians, and others). In 2019, 566 non-occupants died in crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the US Department of Transportation (US DOT).
According to a Zogby Strategies poll commissioned by Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and Root Insurance, Bay Area drivers are five times more likely than Southern Californian drivers to use their phones when they get a call or text. In addition, our youngest drivers, teenagers, are some of the most susceptible to distracted driving, according to the California Highway Patrol, NHTSA, and OTS reports. OTS reports teenagers are most likely to suffer serious injury crashes due to driver distraction. An example needs to be set for the younger generations to reduce the tragic loss of life and decrease the rate of accidents and injuries on Bay Area roadways.
Tip: Stress the importance to those your love and care about to not text you or others while they drive and avoid other driving distractions. In addition, consider sharing articles like this one, filled with driving facts and statistics, with family and friends. You can help drive the message home on the dangers of distracted driving and the importance of handling this issue together as a community. Drivers, policymakers, and all Californians must be prepared to address this urgent crisis marked by the 20-year high traffic fatalities spike in 2022 and its correlation to distracted driving practices.
Texting is among the most dangerous forms of distracted driving as it involves all three kinds of distraction: visual (not focusing on the road), manual (not controlling the vehicle), and cognitive (not thinking about driving).
What is Vision Zero, and is it working?
San Francisco adopted Vision Zero — a traffic safety model that originated in Sweden in the 1990s. The model proved successful across much of Europe and is being employed in many US cities. Vision Zero looks at traffic safety through the lens that crashes, injuries, and fatalities are all preventable. The Vision Zero program recognizes that drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists sometimes make mistakes. Hence, road system designers, stakeholders, and legislators must address the issue together as a multidisciplinary approach aimed at ensuring errors don’t result in serious injuries or fatalities. Although the number of traffic deaths in San Francisco fell notably in 2017 following the program’s first few years, traffic deaths began to rise again from 2018 through 2021. Policymakers are working on employing new strategies and enforcing California distracted driving laws.
What to do after a California collision
California suffers approximately 200,000 auto accidents each year that result in injuries. Distracted driving has played a significant role in the nationwide all-time high of traffic accidents the US is currently facing.
After an accident, always call the police to ensure everyone remains safe and to initiate an official report. Move yourself and your vehicle to a safe position near the accident site, away from traffic and dangerous debris. Always seek medical attention, even if you feel fine at the moment, as hormones like adrenaline can mask pain and other injury symptoms. In addition, some injuries, like whiplash, can take days, even weeks, to surface. You will likely need to file an insurance claim. The claims process can be overwhelming, but it is necessary. Medical expenses and other damages can be costly and accumulate rapidly.
When to Consider Hiring a Bay Area Car Accident Attorney
As a driver in a distracted driving car accident, it is crucial to note that you may be held liable for the accident if it is determined that you were distracted while driving. As well as paying for the damages caused by the crash, you may have to compensate the other party for their injuries. However, a skilled Bay Area distracted driving lawyer will review the details of the impact and the accident report. Your attorney will look to identify points that may prove that the other driver was also distracted, in violation of California vehicle or traffic laws, or partially or totally at fault by other means, reducing or eliminating your liability. In addition, by demonstrating how another driver was at fault for the accident, you could be eligible for recoverable damages.
Distracted driving is the number-one cause of car accidents, and many people don’t realize how dangerous it can be. If you’ve been in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, you may be able to receive compensation for medical debt, lost earnings, and pain and suffering. A distracted driving accident lawyer can advise you of your rights and options and get the compensation you deserve.
If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a California car crash, contacting an experienced California distracted driving accident attorney is critical. Schedule a free and confidential consultation with a compassionate and knowledgeable attorney.