Distraction may be behind rise in serious Minnesota accidents

By Restovich Braun & Associates | 10/25/2016 |

Distracted driving, along with widespread misconceptions about the risks of certain habits, may be contributing to an increase in fatal Minnesota accidents.

Since 2005, annual traffic fatalities have been generally declining in Minnesota, according to MPR News. Sadly, though, a preliminary review of data from last year suggests that fatal car accidents increased between 2014 and 2015, making 2015 the deadliest of the last five years. Official analyses also suggest that distracted driving may be a significant factor in this increase in serious accidents.

A deadly year

Officials estimate that a total of 405 lives were lost in motor vehicle accidents last year, according to MPR News. This is a significant increase from the 396 fatalities reported in 2014. Sadly, this increase in accidents may have had the most serious impacts on the most vulnerable road users. From 2014 to 2015, the number of fatally injured cyclists doubled, while pedestrian deaths more than doubled. Fatal motorcycle accidents also increased over 35 percent.

Toll of distracted driving

Although officials haven't yet identified specific reasons for this increase in accidents, driver distraction may have been a significant factor. To date, distracted driving has officially been identified as a contributing factor in one out of five of the deadly crashes reported in 2015. This is especially alarming because the under-reporting of distraction as an accident cause is a notorious problem.

In November 2015, CBS News identified distracted driving as a top cause of serious accidents in Minnesota. It is currently the most common contributing factor in crashes that result in injury or property damage. Driver inattention is also one of the three leading causes of fatal accidents, causing more deaths each year than drunk driving.

Overlooked risks

It may surprise many people that distracted driving accidents remain such a prevalent problem in Minnesota. State law forbids all drivers from accessing the Internet, composing electronic messages or reading these messages while at the wheel. Drivers under age 18 are also banned from using cellphones of any kind, including hands-free devices. Unfortunately, even when drivers comply with these laws, they may underestimate the dangers of other forms of distraction.

As an example, according to Forbes, many drivers mistakenly think that hands-free cell phones are safer than handheld devices. The National Safety Council has found that eight out of 10 drivers hold this belief. Furthermore, seven out of 10 drivers who use hands-free cell phones do so primarily for safety reasons. Unbeknownst to these individuals, more than 30 studies have demonstrated that hands-free and handheld cell phones create comparable levels of distraction.

The prevalence of in-car technology that supposedly minimizes driver distraction may also be a growing issue. According to Fox News, one study from the University of Utah and AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that in-vehicle systems often demand too much attention from drivers, particularly when they are complex or tend to make errors. Unfortunately, these largely unregulated systems are an increasingly standard feature in newer vehicles.

Holding reckless drivers responsible

Given the growing threat that distracted driving crashes pose, it is important for victims to remember that they may have legal recourse after these accidents. In Minnesota, drivers who knowingly engage in actions that might endanger others may be considered liable for any injuries or deaths that they cause. Speaking to an attorney may help accident victims better understand their legal rights and potential options for seeking recourse.