Texting, The New Drunk Driving

Posted By: Tony Baratta | January 9th, 2013

Smart phones are everywhere.  Our faces seem to be constantly glued to catch the latest text, tweet, or Instagram to our phones.  It is remarkable how often I see a group of people sitting at a table in a restaurant, none of whom are talking to each other and all of whom are looking at their phones.  Are they texting one another instead of talking?  Most scary is how many times I see 3,000 pound hunks of metal (called cars) travelling at great speeds with their operators looking down and not straight ahead.  What are these people looking down at?  Of course we all know-their phones.

Thirty years ago, it took the efforts of Mothers Against Drunk Driving to bring national attention and ultimately nationwide enforcement of laws to prevent and punish drunk driving. Texting while driving, or otherwise using the Smart phone, is the newest roadway menace and destroyer of lives.

I represent a young man whose life has been devastated, in a flash, by the actions of a texting driver.  The case will be profiled in a news story shown on Rock Center with Brian Williams at 10:00 p.m., Thursday, January 10, 2013.  Kate Snow and members of the Rock Center Team spent hours at my home several months ago interviewing my client.

On a calm, clear Saturday morning, he was driving in his truck northbound on a two-lane state road in Bucks County when he was suddenly confronted with another vehicle, in the air, spinning like a helicopter toward him.  What seemed like an eternity was only seconds before the vehicle crashed onto the front hood and roof of his truck crushing the compartment onto his hips and legs so that he could not move.  After that striking vehicle rolled over the top of his truck, because the impact had destroyed the engine and all of the mechanical features of the his truck, it kept moving forward at 45 miles per hour for another 300 yards when it came to rest only because the vehicle ran up an embankment where it struck and destroyed 3 trees before slamming finally into a fourth tree.  His father, who was his front seat passenger, was knocked unconscious but when he came to, witnessed a grisly scene that has been seared into his memory and nightmares since.  His son was still alive but trapped.  The entire front of the vehicle seemed to be crushing the lower part of his body.  His son was emitting blood-curdling, agonizing screams of pain.  Although many people quickly responded to the scene, it took more than 45 minutes for fire rescue workers to extract his son’s body from the vehicle.

This tragedy was caused by a texting driver.  What Anthony Arminio II learned, after a long in-patient hospitalization and numerous surgeries to repair crushing damage to his lower extremities, was that a driver traveling the opposite direction from him had not seen, because he was looking down at his phone, another vehicle stopped and waiting to turn left into a mid-block business.  The texting driver traveling at approximately 50 miles an hour saw the stopped vehicle only at the last second.  The texting driver quickly turned the steering wheel to the left, enough to only clip the left rear of the stopped vehicle but throwing the texting driver’s vehicle into a counterclockwise spin and propelling that vehicle into the air and into the oncoming lanes of traffic.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2008 that driver distraction was the cause of 16% of all fatal crashes (5,800 people killed) and 21% of crashes resulting in an injury (5,015 people wounded). The texting driver is 23 times more likely to get into a crash than a non-texting driver.  The average text takes a driver’s eye off the road for nearly 5 seconds.  When traveling at 55 mph, that is enough time to cover the length of almost 5 football fields. Texting while driving is essentially driving while blind. See this article on texting and driving prevention.

A vehicle will travel 1.6 feet per mile per hour.  At 50 miles per hour, a vehicle is traveling 80 feet per second.  Reaction time is on average approximately 1/2 second.  So, a person who is neither texting nor driving intoxicated and paying appropriate attention to the road, will travel, at 50 mph, 40 feet before placing his foot on the brake or taking other evasive action.  If that reaction time is delayed due to texting or driving while intoxicated, the vehicle of course would travel a greater distance before that evasive maneuver can be made.  Studies have shown that texting distracts a driver and increases reaction time even greater than driving while intoxicated.  In fact, studies have shown while driving intoxicated increases reaction time slightly, reaction time while reading a text or writing a text is close to tripled.

Pennsylvania has an anti-texting law.  It was effective March 8, 2012.  It attempts to encourage motorists to put their full focus on driving.  The law prohibits as a primary offense any driver from using a Smart phone to send, read or write a text based communication while his or her vehicle is in motion.  A $50.00 fine is imposed for convictions.   It is a summary offense and carries no points.  As background to the law, it was noted that in 2010 there were 13,846 crashes in Pennsylvania where distracted driving played a role.  Of those, 1,093 of the crashes occurred where at least one of the drivers was using a hand-held phone with 11 people losing their lives in those crashes.

About the Author

Anthony J. Baratta (Tony) is a trial attorney. He has tried more than 50 cases to Juries in State and Federal Courts and has litigated thousands of personal injury and medical malpractice cases in his 30-year career. Tony is the founding partner of Baratta, Russell, & Baratta and an active board member of the Pennsylvania Brain Injury Association (BPIA). Tony is also on the board for the Philadelphia VIP and performs pro bono work for the Laurel House, a non-profit for victims of domestic abuse. In addition, Tony is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum for trial attorneys, voted one of Philadelphia’s Super Lawyers for the past 14 years, and a 2018 recipient of the First Judicial District Pro Bono Award for the Civil Trial Division.

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