By Amy S. York, Esq. and Gregory S. Porter
Many years ago, I was driving on a highway in Ohio, chatting with my mother who was in the passenger seat. All of a sudden, I saw a good-sized spider crawling on the ceiling of my car, by the driver’s door. I swatted at the spider and it fell from the ceiling *somewhere* to my left. Was it dead? Was it alive? Was it poised to sink its venomous fangs into my tender flesh?!?
Luckily, I had the presence of mind to pull off the side of the road and look for it. My sister-in-law would have likely driven the car off a cliff resulting in a spectacular fireball like you see in the action films. She watched William Shatner in Kingdom of the Spiders as a child and has never been the same.
The next thing I know, an Ohio Highway Patrolman, coming from the opposite direction, flips on his lights and turns around to pull up behind me to see what was going on. When he approached my window, my mother, laughing hysterically, says, “You have to tell him the truth!” which is not what a policeman probably wants to hear on a highway stop. Blushing, I respond:
“There was a spider.”
Distracted driving takes many forms. It’s a spider on your ceiling. It’s applying mascara in the rearview mirror. It’s the baby crying and the kids fighting in the backseat. It’s fiddling with the radio and climate control buttons. It’s taking a phone call or reading a text message. It’s eating, drinking, smoking, and talking with your passengers.
By definition, distracted driving “occurs when drivers divert their attention from the driving task to focus on some other activity.” In 2016, distracted driving caused 3,157 fatal crashes resulting in 3,450 deaths. Cell phone use accounted for about 14%, or 444, of these deaths.
Statistics were similar in 2011: 10% of fatal crashes and 17% of injury crashes involved distracted driving. More than 3,000 people were killed and some 387,000 people were injured in these accidents. Cell-use accounted for 12% of the fatality cases and 5% of the injury cases.
Researchers have shown that the distracted brain processes information differently than its non-distracted counterpart. One study placed test subjects inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) system while they used a driving simulator equipped with a fully functional steering wheel and pedals. Researchers monitored the subjects’ brain activity during standard driving conditions and under those same conditions while the subjects performed auditory tasks similar to having a hands-free cell-phone conversation.
Whereas undistracted brain activity centered in areas focused on visual and auditory attention and alertness, the distracted brain showed decreased activity in these regions. The distracted brain activity was concentrated in the frontal areas which are associated with executive functions like working memory, thought-processing, and decision-making rather than visual acuity.
As a result, distracted drivers, including those using hands-free phones, tend to “look at” but not “see” objects around them. “Distracted drivers experience what researchers call inattention blindness, similar to that of tunnel vision.” Drivers using cell phones look at, but fail to see, up to 50% of the information in their environment.
What’s more, the brain does not automatically shift back to “undistracted” mode. The distracting effects can last up to 27 seconds after a conversation has ended. Driving at 25 mph, a vehicle can cover nearly 1,000 feet in this amount of time, or more than 65 car lengths. At 55 mph, a driver would cover more than 2,000 feet, or 145 car lengths.
Texas drivers are not immune to distractions and may actually be more likely to be involved in a distracted-driving collision. One study reports that Texas is the 16th most-distracted state, based on the percent of time drivers spend on their cell phones. Austin is the 2nd most-distracted city and Houston is the 6th most distracted.
You may have been involved in a collision caused by a distracted driver without even knowing it. The Texas Peace Officer’s Crash Report does not contain a field indicating whether a driver was distracted. The officer’s narrative often does not include this information either. A deeper investigation may be necessary to prove fault and liability in an auto accident case.
Amy S. York is an attorney and guest-blogger for Dobbs & Porter, PLLC.
 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Traffic Safety Facts: Distracted Driving 2016 (2018), https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812517 (visited May 13, 2019).
 Id. at Table 1.
 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Traffic Safety Facts: Distracted Driving 2011 (2013), https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/811737 (visited May 13, 2019).
 Tom A. Schweizer, et al., Brain Activity During Driving with Distraction: An Immersive fMRI Study, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Feb. 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3584251/pdf/fnhum-07-00053.pdf (visited May 13, 2019).
 National Safety Council, Understanding the Distracted Brain: Why Driving While Using Hands-Free Cell Phones Is Risky Behavior, 2012.
 David L. Strayer, et al., Talking to Your Car Can Drive You to Distraction, Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 2016, https://appliedcognition.psych.utah.edu/publications/talk_car_drive_distraction_16.pdf (visited May 13, 2019).
 Zendrive, Zendrive Research: Largest Distracted Driving Behavior Study (2017).
 Form CR-3 1/1/2015.