Distracted driving is a significant safety hazard for Virginia motorists. According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, more than 23,000 crashes in 2019 involved distracted drivers. That equates to roughly one of every five crashes. Of those collisions, more than 8,200 involved at least one injury, and 113 involved at least one fatality.
Drivers talking on cellphones or reading text messages caused many of the accidents. In response to the epidemic of distracted driving accidents, Virginia has adopted several laws designed to punish the use of phones while driving and encourage drivers to use hands-free devices. That begs the question: Are hands-free devices truly safe, or do they merely provide the illusion of safety?
If you’ve been injured by a motorist who was talking on the phone while driving, an experienced Virginia car accident lawyer can help you recover compensation for your injuries and related expenses. The Harrisonburg distracted driving accident attorneys at Kendall Law Firm have been helping people with personal injury claims for more than two decades. As a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, attorney David Kendall knows the value of integrity, service, and commitment.
Our law firm has secured millions of dollars for our clients. We’re ready to put our experience to work for you. Get a free initial consultation today by calling our office or visiting our contact page.
What Is a Hands-Free Device?
As its name implies, a hands-free device may be used to operate a cellphone with voice commands rather than typing by hand. When it comes to driving, a hands-free device allows the user to keep their hands on the wheel instead of dialing or typing on the phone. The idea behind hands-free communication devices is that drivers can talk on the phone while driving without the corresponding risks of doing so with a handheld device.
One of the most frequently used types of hands-free devices is the wireless headset or set of wireless earphones. Many of these devices use Bluetooth, a proprietary wireless technology that allows for data to be exchanged between devices over short distances. Apple’s AirPods, which use Bluetooth to connect to your phone or another device, have become one of the most popular brands of wireless earphones.
Some motorists use earphones while driving. But wearing earphones reduces a driver’s ability to hear the sounds around them including the noise of approaching vehicles. The sound of a vehicle could provide the driver an extra fraction of a second to respond to dangerous conditions.
Recent technological developments have resulted in the rapid implementation of hands-free devices in vehicles, such as:
- Car speakers that connect to a smartphone — By running the audio from a phone through the car’s speakers instead of through headphones, the driver can still hear a phone call or music without the noise of other nearby vehicles being drowned out.
- In-car microphones — Some vehicles are now equipped with microphones that allow a driver to speak into them while talking on the phone, instead of having to fuss with a headset microphone.
- Voice command technology — One of the most common causes of distracted driving accidents is drivers glancing down at their phones to dial a number or type out a text message. With voice command technology, a driver can speak a command out loud and have the device respond to that command – such as dialing a phone number or reading an incoming text message aloud. Some voice command systems even let a driver select their music or program a destination into a navigation device.
- Steering wheel controls — While not technically “hands-free,” placing the controls for music, navigation, and making a phone call on the steering wheel makes it easier for a driver to complete these tasks without having to take their hands from the wheel or glance down to a device in their lap.
Study Reveals That Hands-Free Devices Are Safe to Use While Driving
A recent study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that drivers who used a handheld phone were as much as 3.5 times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers who did not use their phones at all while driving.
The use of any type of communication device while driving—hands-free or handheld— increased the risk of a distracted driving accident. But the study found that drivers who used a hands-free device were at a lower risk of accidents compared to drivers who used a handheld phone.
“Any activity that places either visual or manual demands on the driver — texting, browsing or dialing a hand-held phone, for instance — substantially increases crash risk. However, our recent study has found that the primarily cognitive secondary task of talking on a hands-free device does not appear to have any detrimental effects,” said Tom Dingus, director of VTTI and the principal investigator of the study.
Reasons Why You Might Still Be Distracted By Hands-Free Devices
It’s important to recognize that although talking and driving while using a hands-free device is a better alternative to using a handheld phone, it’s still safer to avoid the use of a phone entirely while operating a motor vehicle.
Here are a few reasons why hands-free phone driving can be a dangerous distraction:
- Hands-free devices take your concentration away from driving. There are three primary types of driver distractions: Manual distractions, visual distractions, and cognitive distractions. Manual distractions take your hands off the wheel, visual distractions take your eyes off the road, and cognitive distractions divert your mental focus from driving. Using a handheld phone involves all three types of distractions while using a hands-free device takes your concentration off of the act of driving but may keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.
- Hands-free devices can affect your visual perception. Human beings are not very good at multitasking, even if many of us believe otherwise. Even if your eyes are on the road while using a hands-free device, much of your mental energy is devoted to your phone conversation. This can produce a sort of tunnel-vision effect that may prevent you from seeing and recognizing hazards around you.
- Multitasking is mentally exhausting. Trying to navigate safely through traffic while engaged in a phone conversation requires a lot of mental energy. If you’re mentally drained after talking and driving at the same time, you are more likely to miss nearby hazards or make a sloppy driving mistake.
Distracted Driving May Be More Dangerous Than DUI
It may be hard to believe, but research shows that distracted driving may be more prevalent than driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. According to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s 2019 Traffic Crash Facts report, there were 23,246 crashes involving distracted driving statewide that year, or roughly 18 percent of all crashes. By contrast, there were 7,048 crashes involving alcohol in 2019, accounting for just 5.5 percent of all accidents.
Many people ask the question, “Can you talk on the phone while driving?” The answer recently changed, at least as it concerns holding a device while operating a vehicle. As of Jan. 1, 2021, it’s now illegal to hold a cellphone or other type of handheld communication device while driving in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
It is not illegal to talk on the phone while driving. But you must do so using a hands-free device.
If you’re caught holding a cellphone while driving, you will be fined $125 for your first offense. Subsequent violations will result in a $250 fine, as will holding a cellphone while driving through a work zone. You could also have three demerit points added to your driver’s license for holding a cellphone while driving.
Virginia’s Cell Phone Law
Virginia’s new law banning handheld communications devices while driving is a follow-up to a law that banned drivers from typing or reading a text message or email while driving or from holding a cellphone in a work zone. The new law makes it illegal to hold a cellphone at all while driving, though drivers can do so while legally stopped and parked. A hands-free device may be used at any time.
Injured by a Distracted Driver? Contact Us Today
Distracted driving accidents injure thousands of Virginians every year despite new regulations aimed at curbing this dangerous behavior.
Being hit by a distracted driver could lead to painful injuries, costly medical bills, and permanent disabilities. To get the money you need to restore your life after a distracted driving accident, talk to a Harrisonburg distracted driving attorney at Kendall Law Firm today. Call our office or visit our contact page for a free initial consultation.