Distracted Driving Underreported In Colorado

Summary – For those in a hurry:

Colorado drivers are in about 120,000 accidents per year. Only about 20,000 are confirmed to be related to distracted driving. But distracted drivers have good reasons to underreport, and we still rely on them for the numbers. In fact, over 91% of Colorado drivers surveyed admit to distracted driving. So let’s take this problem seriously and put the phone down. Read on for more detail:

An Example of the Problem:

I recently had a client describe being rear-ended at full speed by a driver who apparently made no effort at all to stop before the collision.  My client didn’t hear the sound of squealing tires prior to being hit. There were no tire marks on the road after the collision. There was simply no indication the other driver attempted to slow down or avoid the collision. He didn’t even swerve prior to impact. My client safely slowed for a driver turning ahead, and the driver behind rammed into him at full speed. What was the at-fault driver looking at? 

When police arrived, my client asked if the other driver had admitted to being distracted. Was he on his phone?  The officer shrugged, and said “He wasn’t on his phone when I got here.” 

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, so I decided to have a look at some recent research regarding this issue. However, it has become clear, through this research and through my own experiences talking with injured clients, that distracted driving really is underreported.

Why The Issue Is Worth Your Time

We all should know texting while driving is illegal in Colorado. But any form of distracted driving, such as dialing phone numbers, switching apps, or starting and stopping a podcast or audiobook, increases the odds that someone is going to be seriously injured or even killed. Some studies even conclude that simply participating in a phone conversation is enough to significantly slow a diver’s response time. It’s not just distracted drivers themselves being harmed by these bad habits. 

In Colorado, the total number of motor vehicle collisions hovers just under 120,000 per year, with Denver averaging approximately 1 accident for every 28 people per year. Anything that can bring those numbers down will make a huge difference for those who would have been injured or killed, and their families. But the impact of all these accidents can reach far beyond that, and we all benefit in ways we may not even be aware of, from safer communities. If all it takes is some awareness that exercising some patience and reading a text message after you get to where you’re going to make our communities safer, wouldn’t it be worth it?

It’s Actually An Even Bigger Problem

The Colorado Department of Transportation conducted a mail survey in 2018 that revealed some very concerning (anonymous) admissions. In that survey, 91 percent of participants admitted to distracted driving in the past 7 days. Another CDOT study shows about 22,000 distracted driving related accidents in Colorado per year. These two results do not add up.

Common sense would seemingly support assertions that distracted driving, especially if 91% of Colorado drivers are admitting to driving distracted in a given week, is significantly contributing to our total accident and injury numbers. 

Distracted drivers who cause crashes and injuries aren’t always willing to admit the distraction. Even when they do, a National Safety Council study showed that only about half of those admissions were recorded in reports by police.  Many law enforcement officers responding to a collision have no ability to determine whether a cell phone or other distraction played a role unless a witness saw a driver looking at a phone or other device.

As an attorney, I have methods of trying to determine whether distracted driving was an issue. I can look to the physical evidence at the crash scene. I can attempt to obtain cell phone records and social media activity, etc. Some of those records are notoriously difficult to obtain, and even with such records, it may not be possible to document that a driver glanced at a phone, opened an app, or paused a music playlist in the moment before a crash. Piecing all this together in the early stages of a case, especially before filing a formal lawsuit and gaining subpoena power, can be difficult to say the least. 

All indications are that distracted driving, while confirmed to be a factor in over 20,000 accidents each year in Colorado, is probably responsible for far more than that. With over 90% of surveyed drivers admitting they have not only engaged in some form of distracted driving, but have done so in the past week, it is obvious that the temptation to reach for the phone while driving is huge. 

While the at-fault driver remains our best source of information about whether distracted driving was an issue in any specific crash, we will have to expect underreporting. We simply cannot rely on at-fault drivers who have much to lose by admitting being distracted to be our source of truth regarding how much of a problem this issue is. Instead, let’s take the problem seriously, follow our common sense on this issue, and do everything we can to encourage Colorado drivers to focus on the road.

Let’s all agree to put the phone down before the drive starts, and leave it alone until we arrive safely. 

Ready Law Personal Injury Blog