3 Surprising Facts About Virginia’s Distracted Driving Epidemic

Fatal distracted driving crashes increased in Virginia by more than 18% in 2017. While most drivers hopefully know that texting while driving is illegal in Virginia, ending our state’s distracted driving epidemic involves much more than just keeping people from typing on their phones behind the wheel.

Keep reading to learn some surprising facts about distracted driving and car accident claims, including what you can do if you’ve been affected.

1. Phone Use Isn’t the Only Cause of Distracted Driving

While we tend to associate distracted driving with electronic devices like smartphones, in-car entertainment systems, and tablets, these aren’t the only distractions on the road. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) 100-Car Study from 2013, the following activities are most likely to cause a distracted driving crash:

  1. Reaching for a loose or moving object in the vehicle
  2. Dealing with an insect in the car
  3. Looking at a roadside incident or an object outside the vehicle
  4. Reading
  5. Applying makeup
  6. Inputting information on a handheld device, such as a phone
  7. Eating
  8. Talking or listening on a handheld device

While electronic device use is only one potential cause among many for distracted driving crashes, this doesn’t mean that texting and driving isn’t a serious and growing problem. Studies show that using your phone while driving increases your risk for a crash threefold compared to normal driving.

However, experts agree that our idea of “normal driving” is probably skewed, since many people routinely take their eyes off the road to grab a beverage or adjust the radio, and even these behaviors significantly raise your risk for a wreck. Studies show that eating while driving, for example, raises your chances of crashing by more than 50%. Meanwhile, “rubbernecking” when you drive by an accident or police stop makes you almost four times more likely to crash.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Basics of Virginia Auto Insurance: What You Need to Know

Under Virginia law, every driver has a duty to operate their vehicle safely and reasonably. If your in-vehicle activities — whether it’s eating, checking your social media feed, or rummaging through your bag — impair your driving and cause a crash, you may be liable for damages that result.

2. Distracted Drivers Engage in Other Risky Behaviors

Distracted drivers aren’t just failing to keep a proper lookout. Virginia’s 2017 crash data shows that many fatal wrecks involve a combination of multiple unsafe behaviors. Highway safety officials from our state’s government report that:

  • One out of three fatal distracted driving crashes also involves speeding.
  • Drunk driving plays a role in 27% of fatal distracted driving crashes.
  • 72 distracted drivers died in 2017 because they weren’t wearing seatbelts.

Although distractions decrease your response times and impair your driving enough to cause a crash on their own, these additional factors add even more unnecessary risk.

For example, a driver who has a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08%, which is Virginia’s legal limit, will typically demonstrate reduced control over speed and maneuvering, impaired judgment, and lowered self-awareness and self-control. When you add mental, visual, or manual distractions into the equation, the effects can be catastrophic.

3. Forensic Experts Can Sort Through Electronic Data and Find Evidence of Distracted Driving

After a distracted driving crash, it’s important to preserve all the evidence, including data from the driver’s electronic devices. A negligent driver’s cell phone data and records sometimes contain powerful evidence that can support an injury claim.

For example, in the recent case involving the fatal crash of a self-driving Uber vehicle in Arizona, the Tempe Police Department sifted through the driver’s usage data. (While Uber’s self-driving vehicles are partially autonomous, the driver is still supposed to remain behind the wheel, pay attention, and take control when necessary). In this case, the data showed the driver was streaming a television show on Hulu until almost the exact moment her vehicle struck a pedestrian. (The driver has denied using her personal or business phone during the incident, despite the evidence that shows otherwise.)

RELATED ARTICLE: Why an Attorney Investigation Matters for Your Truck Accident Case

In a personal injury case, a digital forensic expert can gather and sort through electronic usage data even if the driver wiped their phone. Usually, the “delete” option on a smartphone doesn’t get rid of much (if any) information. Instead, it “de-indexes” the data, hiding it from view. And even when data recovery isn’t possible, a skilled personal injury lawyer and forensic expert have access to powerful tools that can still prove the driver was distracted.

RELATED VIDEO: Phelan Petty on Car Accidents

After a serious car crash, it’s in your best interest to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. They can take actions to preserve all the relevant evidence, including the driver’s digital data, and identify possible causes for the crash.

At Phelan Petty, we carefully investigate our clients’ claims to identify every factor that led to their injuries. When necessary, we consult with expert witnesses who can help us understand how speed, distraction, alcohol, drugs, and other factors contributed to a wreck. Then, we build comprehensive litigation strategies based on the evidence we uncover. To learn more about our approach to personal injury claims and find out how we can help you, contact us today.

Phelan Petty: Cutting-Edge Legal Representation for Distracted Driving Accident Victims in Virginia

Phelan Petty’s experienced personal injury team focuses on handling a small number of complex cases so we can help the clients who need our experience and expertise the most. If you or a loved one recently suffered an injury due to someone’s negligence, contact us online or call us at 804-980-7100 to schedule your free consultation. We’ll assess your situation and discuss your legal options at no cost to you, and if we’re able to handle your case, you won’t pay attorney’s fees unless we help you recover financial compensation through a verdict or settlement.


Laris, M. (2018, June 22). Backup driver in fatal self-driving Uber crash was streaming Hulu. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2018/06/22/uber-safety-drivers-phone-was-streaming-the-voice-ahead-of-deadly-driverless-crash-police-find/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.88307e360f2e

Vegega, M., Jones, B., & Monk, C. (2013, December). Understanding the effects of distracted driving and developing strategies to reduce resulting deaths and injuries: A report to Congress (Report No. DOT HS 812 053). Washington, D.C.: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved from https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/812053-understandingeffectsdistracteddrivingreporttocongress.pdf

Uren, B. (2016, July 29). How alcohol impairs your ability to drive. University of Michigan Health. Retrieved from https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/wellness-prevention/how-alcohol-impairs-your-ability-to-drive

Virginia Highway Safety Office. (2017). 2017 Virginia traffic crash facts. Richmond, VA: Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Retrieved from https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/safety/crash_data/crash_facts/crash_facts_17.pdf

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

About Michael Phelan

Michael Phelan has been consistently recognized for his excellence as a trial lawyer, his commitment to research, his outstanding communication skills, and his sincerity and dedication. As one of his valued clients said, “Mike puts his heart into it."