Distracted Driving Laws Aren’t Curbing The Problem Fast Enough

States across the world have been tightening down on distracted driving through stricter laws governing the use of cellphones. When these laws first rolled out, lawmakers believed enacting hands-free laws would prevent the numerous crashes that kill thousands of people each year. Still, drivers – especially teenagers – aren’t taking these laws seriously. On top of that, the laws aren’t always enough to prevent tragedy.

It’s not a US-only problem

Laws in the UK differ from laws in the US. The UK applies penalty points to drivers for being caught using their phones, but that system is meaningless to Darrell Martin, whose brother was killed by a driver with eight previous violations of this law.

The same article linked above discusses that in the UK, 48% of drivers admit to using handheld phones while stationary, and 31% admit to making a phone call while driving.

In the US, the situation looks worse. A telephone survey conducted by an insurance carrier found that 81% of drivers admitted to using their phone while driving. Forty percent of drivers said they are aware of the dangers, and have been hit (or almost hit) by someone distracted by their phone. Still, that’s not enough for some to drop this deadly habit.

Distracted drivers in no-fault states are risking more

In the US, Florida has a strict law against texting while driving, but talking on the phone while driving is legal. Florida is a no-fault state, which means it’s harder to sue someone for causing a crash. Still, teenagers who risk making those distracting calls while driving are also risking a higher financial responsibility in the instance of a crash.

The no-fault liability insurance status many US states have adopted is confusing for some. The mistaken belief is that “no-fault” means a person can’t be sued for injuries they cause, but that’s not true. After a crash in a no-fault state, each driver turns to his or her own insurance policy to pay for their medical bills and other damages. This is in contrast to an at-fault state where drivers can file a claim with either party’s insurer, or file a lawsuit to prove fault and have the responsible party pay for their losses.

Since talking on the phone is still legal in Florida, drivers who use their phone may feel like they’re impervious to a lawsuit if they cause a crash. However, there are exceptions to the restriction on lawsuits.

The ability to sue another driver who caused an accident is taken for granted in at-fault states. In a no-fault state, there are only two factors that will allow an injured party to sue another driver, even when it’s clear that driver caused the crash.

The first exception is if the injured party suffers a permanent injury. The second exception is if the injuries aren’t permanent, but the person’s medical bills or lost wages extend beyond the required $10,000 in PIP coverage.

It’s the conversation that’s distracting drivers

Today, smartphones are not just for conversations and text messages. This single device has become a tool for navigation, games, email, maps, playing music, and searching the internet. These are all activities many teenagers can’t live without, even for five minutes.

Twenty years ago, lawmakers were worried about drivers becoming distracted from holding the phone, so they enacted hands-free laws. Today, it’s clear that the conversation itself is the biggest distraction, and distracted drivers cause havoc on the road.

“Drivers talking on cell phones were 18 percent slower to react to brake lights,” says one study reported by Live Science. “In a minor bright note, they also kept a 12 percent greater following distance. But they also took 17 percent longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked. That frustrates everyone.”

The scariest discovery is that distracted drivers are less adept than drunk drivers with blood alcohol levels above the legal limit.

Laws won’t curb the source of the problem: addiction to devices

Lawmakers can only go so far with new policies. If we want to curb the problem of distracted driving, it can only happen when each person makes the conscious choice to refrain from using their phone in any form while driving.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.