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“Texts=Wrecks” includes cognitive distractions

By Ken Gibson on March 26, 2018

How can you avoid cognitive distractions and stay safer?

We at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys aren’t alone in sharing the message of “Texts=Wrecks.” Former chief claims officer for Liberty Mutual Insurance Ted Gramer recently said that distracted driving is an epidemic in the United States.

He added: “Just the number of accidents that happen tear your heart out. You can look at the number of lives that have been destroyed just by four seconds of texting.”

Distracted driving is nothing new. Visual distractions (like looking at maps, billboards, accidents, and other roadside distractions) and manual distractions (like eating, adjusting the radio, putting on makeup, or lighting a cigarette) have always been around.

But today’s driver has something that drivers in the past could only imagine: a smartphone. Beyond making and receiving phone calls, today’s driver can easily check email, text and receive texts, play video games, check social media, and watch videos—all while behind the wheel.

But today, let’s dive into why cognitive distractions may be the most dangerous form of distracted driving, and what we can all do about it.

And remember: texting combines all three—visual, manual, and cognitive distraction.

What is cognitive distraction?

Unlike visual or manual distractions, cognitive distractions don’t necessarily require you to look away from the road, or to actively do something other than drive.

Cognitive distractions occur when a driver’s attention or concentration is hindered by some sort of mental distraction. It’s when part of your mind is on something else, instead of solely on the road. It can be caused by many things, including:

  • A heated or passionate discussion or argument with a passenger
  • A phone call on a hands-free cell phone device, such as Bluetooth
  • A passionate reaction to news on the radio
  • Dealing with children in the backseat
  • Listening to an audio book
  • Daydreaming
  • Multitasking
  • Thinking hard about things other than driving, such as upcoming activities, work issues, responsibilities, etc.
  • Any emotion that distracts you, including anxiety, stress, fear, frustration, sadness, confusion, etc.

What impact do cognitive distractions have on you?

Many people assume that cognitive distractions aren’t as bad as manual or visual distractions, but studies reviewed by the National Safety Council suggest this is not true.

Cognitively distracted drivers:

  • Have slower reaction times. In fact, one study found that legally drunk drivers had faster response times than cognitively distracted drivers.
  • Are blind to their surroundings. Researchers found that nearly half of the information in a cognitively distracted driver’s immediate environment—traffic signs and signals, other vehicles, etc.—went unnoticed.
  • Have reduced activity in parts of the brain that are usually active while driving. For example, parts of the brain that are dedicated to processing visual information, spatial information, and overseeing navigation show less activity when a driver is engaged in conversation, listening to news or talk shows, or listening to audio books.

The negative effects of cognitive distraction also last longer than drivers realize. In fact, drivers remain cognitively distracted for 15 to 27 seconds after they have stopped using their hands-free devices, according to a 2015 study cited by The Washington Post. That’s a frightening amount of time when you consider that a car going just 25 miles per hour can travel 1,080 feet (three football fields) in 27 seconds. Anyone in that driver’s way is in real danger.

How can you avoid cognitive distractions while driving?

Awareness and education are the first steps, which is why we at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys have launched our public campaign. When we acknowledge that behaviors are dangerous, we automatically think twice before doing them.

However, here are some actionable strategies for when you are driving:

  • Silence your cell phone and put it away. Out of sight, out of mind. Placing your phone in the backseat will prevent you from being manually and visually distracted; but it can also prevent you from being cognitively distracted, because you’ll be less likely to even think about who could be calling or texting you right now.
  • Put in a CD or switch to a radio station that you’re OK listening to during your whole drive. If you do want to change stations or CDs, pull over to a safe spot. It may be OK to switch music at a long red light, but stay aware of your surroundings even then.
  • Listen to calming music or talk—nothing you could have a strong reaction to. When you drive, try to go to your happy place. Strange as it may seem, some video game soundtracks are designed to make people more focused–so maybe we should all try listening to those? But at least, find something you enjoy.
  • Remind passengers that you are driving first and foremost. It’s difficult to start a new habit. Letting all passengers (especially your children or teenagers) know you’re focusing solely on driving sets a great example for them.
  • Breathe deeply, and remind yourself that you’re in control of a huge, lethal machine; it’s your responsibility to keep others safe. Before driving, review what’s at stake: A child could be chasing a ball around the upcoming bend. A young person could not stop at the red light ahead. The person in front of you could try to merge. You want to be ready by paying full attention.

Even if you’re heading home on a route you’ve traveled for 20 years, stay alert. Three out of 10 crashes happen less than one mile from the driver’s home, according to one British survey, which several American insurers have echoed. Your brain wants to go into auto-pilot in familiar places—don’t let it!

If a driver was cognitively distracted and hits you, how can you prove it?

If you are hit by a cognitively distracted driver, he can be held every bit as liable for your bills as any other reckless driver. Unfortunately, cognitive distraction may be harder to prove.

If you file a claim against the at-fault driver, your attorney can subpoena the driver’s phone records to see which apps were being used at the time of the accident. This can show that the negligent driver was talking, texting, playing games, or listening to an audio book when he or she hit you.

On the other hand, smartphone records cannot prove that the driver was in a heated conversation, daydreaming, or preoccupied. But an experienced Virginia car accident attorney knows to get statements from eyewitnesses, law enforcement, and accident reconstructionists, or even closed-circuit surveillance camera footage, to help prove your claim and get you the compensation you deserve.

Get help from our legal team

Our team at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys hopes you never need to call us because of a senseless distracted driving accident. That’s why we’re doing all we can to promote safe driving in Virginia with our “Texts=Wrecks” campaign. We invite you to join us by spreading the word!

But if someone hits you because he or she was texting, we’re ready to serve as your advocates—to help get the money you need to recover from a crash that wasn’t your fault. For a free consultation, call us at (804) 413-6777 today.

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Prevention, empathy, and diligence are hallmarks of everything we do at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys. Our community can see these ideals lived out in our work to prevent personal injuries from happening.

  • Safety Education
    GibsonSingleton launches a “Texts=Wrecks” campaign to reduce the number of people injured or killed by distracted drivers.
  • Annual Coat Drive
    During the fall, our team works to distribute coats to people in need in our community.
  • Hands-on Service
    John and Ken join the Gloucester Point Rotary Club in cleaning up the community.
  • Supporting Local Schools
    The Gibson family participates in Gloucester’s Botetourt Elementary Shuffle fundraiser.