Report: Distracted driving accidents on the rise in Ohio

Distracted driving crashes are rising in Ohio, possibly due to the limitations of state traffic laws and the ubiquity of cognitively impairing distractions.

In the last decade, distracted driving has gained widespread attention as a deadly public health epidemic. This common behavior causes hundreds of thousands of accidents across the United States each year. According to the government website distraction.gov, in 2014 alone, 3,179 deaths and about 431,000 injuries resulted from distracted driving.

Despite increased public awareness and new laws targeting this dangerous habit, distracted driving continues to be a common practice in many states, including here in Ohio. According to The News-Herald, data from the Ohio Highway Patrol reveals that distracted driving crashes increased 11 percent from 2014 to 2015. Over the same period, 13,261 accidents involving distracted drivers were reported, and 39 lives were lost in fatal distraction-related accidents.

Possible contributing factors

One potential reason that distracted driving remains such a threat in Ohio is that the state has not fully outlawed mobile device use, which is one of the most common forms of distraction. Drivers are prohibited from operating a vehicle while using a handheld device to read, write or send any text-based communications. However, state law makes the following exceptions:

· Drivers may read, write or send texts for emergency purposes.

· Drivers can use handheld devices for navigation.

· Drivers can read, select or type names and numbers into handheld devices order to make phone calls.

· Drivers can also use handheld devices to receive alerts regarding traffic, weather or emergencies.

Due to these provisions, it may be difficult for authorities to detect and prove when motorists are actually violating the law.

Another factor behind the rise in distracted driving accidents in Ohio may be that the use of hands-free devices remains legal. Many drivers think these devices are safer than their handheld counterparts, and state law supports this assumption by letting motorists use hands-free technology. This technology is also an increasingly common feature in vehicles. However, research shows that using hands-free technology can put drivers at risk for accidents just as much as other distracting activities do.

Cognitive distraction dangers

Comprehensive research from the National Safety Council indicates that hands-free devices offer no safety benefit over handheld devices. Indeed, studies show that hands-free phones can still cause significant impairments. These include delayed response times, which in one study were slower than those of drunk drivers; inattention blindness, which may prevent a driver from processing up to half of the visual cues in his or her immediate environment; and reduced activity in parts of the brain that play integral roles in driving.

Alarmingly, these handicaps are not only present while drivers are actively using handheld or hands-free technology. As The Washington Post reports, one study found that the mental distraction associated with this technology persists for an additional 27 seconds. Traveling at a rate of just 25 mph, a driver can traverse the length of three football fields during this time span.

Research also suggests that the shift to hands-free in-car systems may endanger drivers because these systems are markedly more distracting than handheld devices. Early editions of these systems may require significant focus because they are so error-prone. In addition, these systems remain unregulated, according to Fox News, so they may be built into vehicles even if they create potentially dangerous levels of distraction.

Getting help

Sadly, recent statistics suggest that distracted driving accidents will harm many people in Ohio this year. Anyone who has suffered harm or lost a loved one in one of these accidents should consider consulting with an attorney about options for seeking recourse.