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Cellphone use behind the surge in distracted driving deaths

Distracted driving accidents cause thousands of deaths each year around the country according to crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the figures show that stricter laws and public service messaging have done little to stem the problem. Road safety groups say that an enormous growth in cellphone use by motorists is behind the recent surge in distracted driving accidents, and they say that modern smartphones are especially dangerous because they distract Missouri drivers in more than one way.

Drivers become cognitively distracted when they allow their minds to stray from the task at hand to focus instead on conversations or composing text messages, and they are manually distracted when they use their hands to access applications on their phones or type messages instead of keeping them on the steering wheel. Smartphone screens also encourage drivers to divert their eyes from the road ahead. This kind of behavior places other road users at great risk because distracted drivers are unable to take evasive action and vehicles traveling at highway speeds cover about 30 yards every second.

To reduce these risks, drivers should remain alert and switch their cellphones off. Motorists who must maintain contact are encouraged to use only hands free devices, and they should also only program their GPS systems while stationary. Other tips include driving defensively and ensuring that children and pets are restrained securely before setting off.

Police officers may suspect intoxication when motorists are unsteady on their feet, slur their words or smell of alcohol, but distraction leaves no such clues for law enforcement. Establishing that a driver was using their cellphone when they crashed can be difficult for prosecutors who must prove guilt beyond all reasonable doubt, but civil matters such as motor vehicle accident lawsuits are decided based on the preponderance of the evidence. This means that personal injury attorneys must only prove that their account of the events in question is more likely true than not, and they may seek to do this in distracted driving cases by introducing evidence such as cellphone records or the electronic data stored by modern automobiles.

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