By: Tatum Tipton

We’ve all done it, had a personal telephone conversation, turned around and yelled at the kids in the backseat, or scarfed down a cheeseburger while mentally making a list of what to get at the grocery store, all while driving. Somewhere along the way operating a motor vehicle has become a mindless task and sometimes takes the back seat while you are literally in the driver’s seat.

It is terrifying to think that we have all been guilty of distracted driving at some point considering that each day in the United States there are approximately 8 people killed and 1,161 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver. In Colorado alone in 2013 there were 203,827 motorists involved in a crash in which an estimated 24.4% were attributed to distracted drivers. And in 2015 there was an estimated 15,307 distracted driver crashes, which is a number that has grown by 16% in the last four years. These statistics may even be higher due to the fact that identification of a distraction and its role in an accident can sometimes be difficult to determine.

Distracted driving can be a number of things, but all fit into at least one of three categories: Visual – Taking your eyes off the road; Manual – Taking your hands off the wheel; and/or Cognitive – Taking your mind off driving.

While all forms of distracted driving are risky, texting and driving is one of the most dangerous due to the fact that all three distraction categories occur while texting and driving. When sending or receiving a text message, the driver takes their eyes off the road to read the message, hands off the wheel to hold their phone and reply to the message and mind off the task of driving to comprehend what they have read and what the response will be. And if it is an emotionally charged text, the driver might as well be in outer space since their mind is nowhere near the road.

Here’s some food for thought, a texting driver takes their eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. That’s enough time to blindly travel the length of a football field if moving at 55mph. Even if the driver isn’t traveling that quickly, however, they can cause significant injuries or even death if they crash their car while using their phone.

On November 25, 2008, nine-year-old Erica Forney of Fort Collins, Colorado, was riding her bike home from school. At the same time, 36-year-old Michelle Smith was driving 25mph when she looked down to end a phone call, not even a text. She didn’t even see Erica in her path and hit her with her car. Erica never recovered from the injuries she sustained and passed away two days later. In mere seconds, many lives were changed forever because of one quick glance down at a cell phone.

A driver who chooses to use their cell phone while driving is four time more likely to be in a wreck and any time they choose to text and drive they are six times more likely to cause an accident than they would be after consuming four alcoholic beverages. Even with these startling facts, the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration reports that there are 660,000 drivers using their cell phone at any given moment and 33% of U.S. drivers ages 18 to 64 admitted to reading or writing a text message while driving in the previous month.

With the rising use of cell phones while driving, the Colorado General Assembly passed two house bills in 2009 to help strengthen cell phone use restrictions for drivers. The first law prohibits drivers younger than 18 from using cell phones, handheld or hands free, while driving. The second law prohibits all drivers from texting while driving.

This year, in an effort to show that distracted driving is a significant threat to traffic safety, the Colorado Department of Transportation and Colorado State Patrol are joining a national effort in recognizing April as National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Beginning April 8 and running through April 10, Colorado State Patrol will be conducting a high visibility distracted driving period in which they will be specifically looking for drivers who are distracted.

There is nothing so important that you put yourself and others at risk of being killed. Before you pick up your cell phone while behind the wheel, think to yourself, is this message worth yours or someone else’s life? The answer will always be no.

If you do find yourself or a loved one the victim of an accident caused by a distracted driver, you deserve compensation. A lawsuit against a distracted driver may request compensation for medical bills, property damage, lost income, pain and suffering and more.