Publicity, laws and penalties address distracted driving dangers

Smartphones tempt drivers in Texas to take their attention away from the road all of the time. Known as distracted driving, the behavior has caused an increase in traffic accidents and prompted a growing number of states to pursue legislation to address the dangerous problem. Researchers who have studied the results of laws that ban holding phones while driving have concluded that a mix of public awareness campaigns and strong laws and penalties can reduce negative behaviors like texting or using social media behind the wheel.

The marketing director at TrueMotion, which informs insurance companies about mobile device usage, said that media exposure on the subject of distracted driving improves people's awareness of their dangerous habits. The company collected data in three states that passed laws meant to punish drivers distracted by devices. Researchers measured a 19 percent drop in distracting behaviors after the passage of tough laws in two states. In a third state, they recorded a 22 percent drop in texting or app usage while driving.

Safety advocates hope that more states will push for laws that impose high fines on people who drive distracted. The prospect of higher insurance premiums after getting cited for distracted driving could inspire more people to break their bad habits.

Although new laws might reverse the dangerous trend of smartphone use behind the wheel, existing personal injury laws could still impose liability on negligent drivers who cause accidents. A person who misses work because of serious injuries inflicted by another driver's mistakes could pursue damages with an insurance claim or lawsuit. The services of an attorney might support this process by relieving the victim of burdensome tasks like investigating the accident and negotiating with an insurance company. If a contentious case requires litigation, an attorney may be able to provide representation.

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