A distraction is anything that takes your attention away from driving, potentially leading to an accident. It is important for you to understand distracted driving facts, as it could increase your awareness and safety when you are behind the wheel. When driving, it is essential to be alert and attentive to avoid accidents that can cause injury or death. While there is a lot of focus on the use of cell phones and navigation systems when considering distractions, these are not the only causes of distracted driving. 

Despite Illinois laws aimed at preventing distracted driving, many drivers still engage in these types of behaviors, leading to accidents, injuries, and deaths. There are three main types of driving distractions – visual, manual, and cognitive distractions. Some people add auditory distractions as a fourth type to this list.

What Is Distracted Driving?

A driving distraction is anything that takes your attention away from the road. This behavior is risky and poses a threat to vehicle occupants, other vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. In addition to taking your attention away from driving, it can include activities that take your eyes off the road or hands off the wheel.

Distracted driving qualifies as negligence in a car accident case. In an accident claim, if one driver is proven to have been driving while distracted, he or she will likely be held liable for the resulting damages.

There are some specific behaviors that are the leading causes of distracted driving. 

Use of electronic devices while driving

Possibly the largest cause of distracted driving is using electronic devices. One study suggests that 87% of people claimed to understand this, but 53% of people surveyed admitted to making a call on their phone while driving, and 45% admitted to texting while driving.

While driving, to receive or send a text message or email, you must take your eyes off the road for an average of 5 seconds. At 55mph, it is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field blindfolded.

Illinois has specific laws aimed at preventing the use of electronic devices while driving. There are two types of laws covering cell phone use while driving. One set is aimed at preventing talking on a cell phone, and the other set is aimed at using electronic devices, such as texting while driving.

Talking on a Phone While Driving

 In Illinois, drivers under 19 years old are not permitted to use cell phones while driving at all, except in emergency situations.

For all other drivers, the use of a cell phone is not permitted at all while driving through a school speed zone, through a construction or maintenance speed zone, or within 500 feet of an emergency scene.

This law does not apply to drivers using hands-free or voice-operated modes, including using a headset, as long as a call can be answered or made using a single button. There are other situations when this law doesn’t apply. This includes persons who are working at a construction or maintenance site where a phone is used for an emergency situation, and law enforcement and emergency vehicle drivers while performing official duties.

If you receive a ticket for using a cell phone while driving, the first or second tickets are a petty offense, with a maximum fine of $1,000, although the average fine is $120. A third cell phone ticket is a class C misdemeanor, with a maximum fine of $1,500, and the average fine being $120.

Using an Electronic Communication Device 

This law applies to cell phones, tablets, laptops, handheld or portable computers, or GPS devices not permanently installed in a vehicle. It prohibits text messaging, emailing, and talking on phones, watching or streaming videos while driving.

Exceptions to this are:

  • Devices used in hands-free or voice-operated modes.
  • Using electronic devices for emergency purposes.
  • Law enforcement or emergency vehicle operators carrying out official duties.
  • While parked on the shoulder of a road or stopped in obstructed traffic, provided the vehicle is in neutral or park.
  • Commercial drivers using communication devices integrated into the vehicle, as long as the screen size is less than 10 inches.

The penalties for violations of the electronic communication device law are a fine of $75 for the first offense, $100 for the second, $125 for the third, and $150 for every subsequent offense. This is a moving violation, meaning that if you receive three or more moving violations in a year, your license may be suspended.

If violating either of the above laws results in great bodily harm, permanent disability, disfigurement, or death, it is an aggravated violation. If there is no fatality, you might be charged with a class A misdemeanor, face up to a year in jail, and fines of up to $2,500. When there is a fatality, you may face a class 4 felony, with 1 to 3 years in jail, and fines of up to $2,500 if convicted.

Some of the other most common driver distractions include eating and drinking, smoking, personal grooming, turning to the back seat to either grab items or face passengers, fiddling with vehicle electronics, or focusing on the rearview mirror. It may also include carrying out conversations with passengers, driving while upset, angry, or daydreaming, paying attention to outside distractions, or rubbernecking.

Distracted Driving Statistics

According to research, in 2020 there were 3,142 deaths from accidents involving some form of distracted driving. In that year, 8% of all fatal crashes, 14% of crashes resulting in injury, and 13% of all police-reported car crashes involved some form of distracted driving. 6% of all drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2020 were distracted at the time the crash happened. There were 587 pedestrians, cyclists, and other people not occupying a vehicle who were killed in distracted driver crashes.

In Illinois, eating or drinking while driving makes you 3 times more likely to have an accident. The risk of an accident increases by 4 times if you are texting, and by 8 times if you are reaching or searching for an object. For teenage drivers, distracted driving is the cause of approximately 58% of accidents.

Generally, in the United States, personal grooming and reading make an accident 2 to 3 times more likely. If you are listening to music or podcasts, your attention to the road decreases by 40%. If you drive with kids in the car, for every 16-minute car ride you are likely to have your eyes off the road for 3 minutes and 22 seconds on average.

Distracted driving is six times more dangerous than driving while under the influence of alcohol, and reaction times while texting are 23% slower than drivers who are intoxicated.

Since there is no way to check for distracted driving after an accident, distracted driving accidents are typically considered to be underreported.

Avoiding Distracted Driving

To avoid distractions while driving, you can:

  • Adjust systems like GPS, sound system, mirrors, and climate control before driving.
  • Eat meals or snacks, and finish all personal grooming, before starting your trip.
  • Secure children and pets. If they need attention while driving, pull over the road to see to this.
  • Store away any objects or possessions so that they do not roll around and cause distractions while driving.
  • Put away electronic devices. If you have a passenger, assign your passenger to do all the texting and calling for you while driving.
  • If you must use devices, or there is any other activity that requires your attention, pull off the road and stop the car in a safe place.

Types of Driver Distractions

While all the activities mentioned above may constitute distracted driving, there are three categories of distracted driving that they each fall into.

Visual Distractions

These cause you to take your eyes off the road. It could be something on the side of the road, such as a crash or flailing tube dancer. It could also be something inside your car, such as checking what song is playing on the radio, searching for items on the floor, or even looking at your passenger.

By taking your eyes off the road, you are not aware of the car ahead of you, or traffic signals, increasing your likelihood of missing traffic signals and causing an accident, or rear-ending the car ahead of you.

Manual Distractions

Manual distractions cause you to take your hands off the steering wheel. This could be changing radio stations, reaching for an object, eating or drinking, or changing temperature controls. With your hands off the wheel, even if you are aware of hazards on the road, it increases the time that it takes for you to take some form of evasive action, like swerving to avoid a crash.

Cognitive Distractions

A cognitive distraction is one that causes your mind to not be focused on driving. This can be driving while upset, drowsy, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It can include anything from road rage to singing your favorite song, arguing with a passenger, or daydreaming.

Driving while drowsy or fatigued is an especially dangerous form of cognitive distraction. Being drowsy or fatigued is suspected to be a factor in more than 100,000 crashes, leading to approximately 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths each year.

Some people suggest that there is a fourth category of distractions, called auditory distractions. These would include catchy music that takes your attention and hands-free phone calls. These could be considered cognitive distractions, as they take your mind off the road. If loud sounds or music cause you to lose some form of awareness, such as other cars honking to draw your attention to something, or emergency vehicles, then they may fall under auditory distractions.

How to Prove the Other Driver was Distracted in an Accident Claim

If you have suffered injuries or damages because of another driver, you may be able to claim compensation for a negligent driver accident. To do this, you can establish that the other driver was negligent by proving distracted driving. To prove that the other driver was distracted, you will need clear evidence, as it can be difficult to prove. The following can help in establishing this:

Police Report

Law enforcement officers file a police report after an accident that may contain notes about distracted driving, supporting your claim. These include:

  • The police officer’s own observations of possible distracted driving, or evidence suggesting this.
  • The at-fault driver may have made a statement admitting distractions at the scene.
  • Other drivers, pedestrians, or witnesses may have made statements confirming distracted driving.
  • The officer may have found evidence on a cell phone that it was being used.

Surveillance Footage

There may have been cameras that caught footage of the accident. After an accident, look for intersection or surveillance cameras, or dashcams. They could show the activities of the driver directly prior to the accident, or other signs, such as the driver failing to brake.

Cell Phone Records

A car accident lawyer could subpoena the other driver’s records to provide evidence that he or she was using a cell phone, by cross-referencing these records with the time of the crash.

Witness Statements

Bystanders who observed the accident may help with establishing what the other driver was doing right before the accident.

Photos of the Scene

There may be evidence at the scene right after the accident. For example, there could be no tire marks from the other car, showing that the driver failed to brake. Alternatively, a cell phone in the other driver’s hand or close by, such as on the seat, indicating that he or she was using a cell phone directly prior to the accident.

Vehicle Data

New vehicles have computer equipment to monitor and track a driver’s activity. These could create a digital record of whether the driver was adjusting controls, or using a phone connected to the vehicle’s systems, when the accident occurred.

Ankin Law logo

Our Illinois personal injury lawyers are approachable and efficient when it comes to legal issues that demand a deep understanding of workers’ compensation, personal injury, wrongful death lawsuits, and motor vehicle accidents.