How to Spot and Avoid Distracted Drivers

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How to Identify and Steer Clear of Distracted Drivers

Distracted driving was a phrase we rarely heard before cellphones became ubiquitous, and most people today associate the alarming rise in distracted driving and distracted driving accidents with the use of mobile electronic devices. While phones, tablets, and sophisticated car information and entertainment systems can definitely be distracting, they are not the only things that fight for our attention behind the wheel. Eating, smoking, adjusting climate control settings, and speaking with passengers tax our brains just as much as talking into a device, which means we have to do more than just look out for phones if we want to avoid accidents caused by distracted drivers.

An Underreported Problem

According to a report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted drivers caused accidents that killed 3,142 road users in 2020. NHTSA based this figure on the documents police officers file when they attend serious car accident scenes, which is why most road safety experts think the official distracted driving figures are far too low.

These experts say law enforcement cannot be relied upon to track distracted driving accurately because not paying attention behind the wheel leaves no telltale clues for police officers to discover. Motorists impaired by drugs or alcohol are usually easy to identify at accident scenes, but a driver who crashed after falling asleep could be fully alert by the time first responders arrive at the scene.

The scale of the problem was revealed when researchers from the National Safety Council studied the accident report forms handed out to police officers in all 50 states. They discovered that none of these forms asked officers to estimate a motorist’s level of fatigue when the accident occurred.

The NSC researchers also found that no state collects information about advanced driver assistance systems, and 47 states do not collect information about infotainment system use. Information about teen driving restrictions are not recorded in 35 states, and police officers in 32 states do not include information about hands-free cellphone use in motor vehicle accident reports. Most worrying of all, information about texting is not gathered by accident investigators in 26 states.

The Three Types of Driver Distraction

To operate a motor vehicle safely, drivers must keep their eyes on the road, their hands on the wheel, and their minds focused on the job at hand. A distraction is something that prevents one or more of these things from happening. When drivers are distracted in more than one way, the chances of an accident increase significantly.

There are three types of distractions that drivers can fall victim to. Visual distractions are distractions that draw a driver’s eyes away from the road ahead. Common visual distractions include traffic accidents, billboards, people wearing provocative or outrageous clothing, and sunsets.

Drivers become manually distracted when they take their hands off the steering wheel to do things like pick up a cup of coffee, light a cigarette, or change a radio station.

Drivers that are cognitively distracted can be particularly hard to spot because they often appear to be completely focused on what they are doing. A cognitive distraction is anything that makes our mind wander from what we should be thinking about, but there are no physical signs to give it away.

Identifying Distracted Drivers

Distraction is something that every road user should worry about because drivers who are not paying attention do not apply their brakes or take evasive action to avoid crashing. This means that the accidents they cause often take place at high speeds and cause death or catastrophic injury.

A car traveling on a highway covers a distance equal to the length of a football field every few seconds, and even vehicles proceeding down city streets at 30 miles per hour cover almost 15 yards every second. Moving vehicles with distracted individuals behind the wheel are a great danger, so knowing how to spot them is a survival skill we should all learn. If you want to reduce your chances of being involved in a distracted driving car accident, here are some of the things you should look out for.

Obviously Distracting Behavior

Some distracted drivers are very easy to spot. The classic example is a driver holding a cellphone to their ear, but animated conversations, eating, drinking, singing along to the radio, and applying makeup are equally obvious signs of distraction.

Erratic Driving

Distracted motorists often return to focusing on driving every few seconds to avoid crashing. When they do, they may brake or swerve sharply to avoid striking another vehicle. Other types of behavior that could suggest distraction include failing to proceed promptly at traffic lights, frequently falling behind cars ahead and then racing to catch up, and ignoring stop signs.


A car with a dog in it is being driven by somebody that could become distracted at any time. Children can also be distracting, but they do not pose the same kind of danger because they are restrained by seat belts or car seats.

Out-of-state Plates

People in unfamiliar surroundings are more prone to distraction, so vehicles with out-of-state license plates should be given plenty of space. They may not know where they are going, and they may be focused on their GPS as a result.


Traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death and serious injury for American teenagers, and distraction is often to blame. Teenagers are especially prone to distraction when they travel in groups.

Avoiding Distracted Drivers

Avoiding distracted drivers is difficult because life is full of things that can distract us at any time. A motorist could be completely focused on driving one moment and completely lost in thought the next, so keeping an eye out for people distracted by cellphones is not enough if we want to reach our destinations safely every time.

To give ourselves the best chances of not needing a personal injury lawyer, we should look out for possible future distractions as well as keep an eye out for drivers who are already distracted. Things to watch out for include unusual vehicles that could make drivers look twice and flashing emergency lights in the distance.

If you notice a driver who may be distracted or something that could cause a distraction in the near future, you should do everything you can to keep a safe distance. A distracted driver will not see you or do anything to avoid hitting you, so the onus is on you to stay safe. If you have to pass a driver who may be distracted, do so carefully and then pay a little more attention than usual to your rearview mirror.

Help for Distracted Driving Victims

Road users injured in distracted driving accidents often suffer serious injuries that prevent them from working for weeks or even months. In order to obtain compensation, they must be able to show that the motorist who injured them was not paying proper attention at the time. The experienced New Jersey personal injury lawyers at RAM Law know how to comb through police and accident reports to find evidence of distraction, and they can use a subpoena to obtain documents like wireless service records. If you or one of your loved ones is involved in a car accident and you think distraction played a role, you can call our New Brunswick office at (732) 247-3600 to set up a consultation and put RAM Law on your side.

Contact Our Office

To schedule a confidential consultation, contact us online or call our offices, in New Brunswick at (732) 247-3600, in Somerville at (908) 448-2560, or in Freehold at (732) 828-2234.

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