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Distracted driving contributes to thousands of deaths each year

The next time you see someone talking on a cell phone while navigating traffic - or you catch yourself reaching for your own phone while behind the wheel - here's a little food for thought: A National Highway Traffic Safety report found that distracted driving contributed to 10 percent of all fatal crashes in the United States in 2010 and 18 percent of all car accidents with injuries.

What does that mean in actual numbers? It means that 416,000 people were injured and 3,092 people lost their lives in distracted driving crashes.

Distracted driving includes cell phone use - and much more

Across the nation, driver's cell phone use is a serious and growing concern. Cell phone use is on the rise, with almost 50 percent more text messages sent in 2011 than in 2009. Cell phone use accounted for 408 of the 3,092 deaths caused by distracted driving, or 13 percent of the total fatalities in 2010. Text messaging requires a driver to take their eyes off the road, divert their brains to another cognitive activity and take their hands off the steering wheel. If a driver on the freeway, traveling at a speed of 55 miles per hour, decides to send a text, his eyes will be off the road for about 4.6 seconds and the brain activity he had been using to focus on the road will be reduced by about 37 percent. In just those few seconds, he will have traveled the length of a football field - and will be 23 times as likely to be in a crash.

But talking, texting or surfing the web on a cell phone is just one form of distracted driving. Other activities that can divert a driver's attention include eating and drinking, reading, watching a video, adjusting the radio, grooming and talking to passengers.

Age makes a difference

Drivers under the age of 20 are more likely to be driving distracted at the time of their accident than any other age group. About 11 percent of these younger drivers admitted to being distracted when they crashed, and about 19 percent of their distractions were cell phone-related. Teenagers themselves are well aware of the problem. About 40 percent of all teens in the United States say that they have felt endangered when observing someone using a cell phone while driving.

Holding distracted drivers accountable

Thirty-nine states have bans against texting and driving, and 10 states prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones. Washington, D.C. has laws against both. Increasingly, states are enacting laws that target distracted drivers. If you have been injured in a crash caused by a distracted driver, talk to an experienced personal injury attorney about your legal rights and options.

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