Eyes on the Road: Confronting the Dangers of Distracted Driving

April 3, 2024 | Article by Chain | Cohn | Clark staff

Eyes on the Road: Confronting the Dangers of Distracted Driving

More than 3,500 people in the United States died annually in car accidents involving a distracted driver, according to the most recent available data from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In California, 828 people have died in distracted driving crashes since the start of 2021 to April, according to media reports. Even with those high numbers distraction-related crash fatalities and injuries are underreported because the behavior is difficult to detect during crash investigations, and police reports often understate the number of incidents, according to AAA.

April marks Distracted Driving Awareness Month, a critical time to shine a spotlight on one of the most pressing and dangerous issues facing drivers today. Distracted driving has become an epidemic, contributing to thousands of preventable deaths and injuries each year.

The analysis by Forbes Advisor compared the 50 most populated U.S. cities across several key metrics — including the number of fatal car accidents involving a distracted driver — to identify the cities with the worst drivers. Bakersfield ranked No. 25 out of 50 cities in the country with the worst drivers, with .34 crashes involving distracted drivers

“Every time you get behind the wheel and take your eyes off the road, even for a second, you’re putting your life and the lives of others at risk,” said Matt Clark, managing partner and attorney at Chain | Cohn | Clark. “Distracted driving is an epidemic that we must confront head-on. We owe it to ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities to make the responsible choice and keep our focus on the task of driving. No text, no call, no distraction is worth a life.”



Anything that prevents a driver from safely operating a car is considered a distraction, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Section 23123.5 of the California Vehicle Code states that a person cannot operate a motor vehicle while holding a handheld telephone or electronic device unless it is designed to allow voice-operated and hands-free use. That means it’s illegal to text even if you’re sitting at a red light.

But there are three types of distraction:

  • Eyes off the road
  • Mind off the road
  • Hands off the wheel

Here are some examples of what could be considered distracted driving:

  • Eating fast food: Drivers who focus their attention on food rather than the road could be cited for distracted driving if they are unsafely operating the vehicle. Eating while driving requires more than chewing, the DMV states. It requires opening packages, reaching and wiping off your hands or face, the website said.
  • Applying makeup: Applying your makeup or any other form of personal grooming is considered distracted driving, according to the website. Driving in itself is a multi-task, requiring your mind and body to work simultaneously, so it should have your full attention, the DMV urges.
  • Using cell phones and other devices: Using your cellphone behind the wheel is a well-known driving offense, but that’s not the only device drivers should not use while driving. Adjusting your vehicle’s controls including mirrors, the radio, navigation system and seat level can result in distracted driving, the DMV website said.
  • Driving with a dog in your lap: While California Vehicle Code does not explicitly address this, it could be argued that a dog or animal riding in the owner’s lap while they are operating a vehicle can be a hazard.
  • Focusing on something outside the vehicle: The DMV website states that drivers should always focus on their driving. While part of this requires being aware of your surroundings, looking out your window can be a distraction if you are concentrating on an accident, a vehicle pulled over by law enforcement, construction work, an advertisement, a scenic view, street names and addresses.

Citations can be issued for distracted driving including cellphone use or a violation of the basic speed law. Drivers who receive a first-time citation for talking or texting on a cellphone in a non-hands free manner can face a minimum $162 fine, according to the CHP website. Other types of distracted driving, like eating, grooming or reaching for something on the floor can be just as dangerous. These actions can result in tickets for reckless driving or a speed law violation, the office states on its website.



According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a two-second distraction is enough to increase the likelihood of a crash by more than 20 times. At 55 miles per hour, that’s the equivalent of driving the entire length of a football field blindfolded.

A recent survey by Nationwide found that over half of drivers admitted to speeding or eating while driving in the past 12 months. Even more concerning, 1 in 5 drivers reported using their phones to text (22%) or call (35%) while behind the wheel. These behaviors are particularly prevalent among younger generations, with 59% of Gen Z drivers reporting increased impatience on the road and 47% admitting to driving faster than they did a year ago.

There are several steps that individuals, communities, and policymakers can take to address this deadly epidemic.

  • Individual Responsibility: As drivers, we all have a personal responsibility to prioritize safety on the road. This means putting our phones away, avoiding eating or drinking while driving, and staying focused on the task at hand. It’s also important to set a good example for others, especially younger drivers, by modeling safe driving behaviors. Follow these safety tips for a safe ride:
    • Need to send a text? Pull over and park your car in a safe location.
    • Designate your passenger as your “designated texter” to respond to calls or messages.
    • Put the cell phone in the trunk, glove box, or back seat of the vehicle until you arrive at your destination.
  • Community Engagement: Distracted Driving Awareness Month provides an opportunity for communities to come together and raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. Schools, local governments, and community organizations can host educational campaigns, driver safety workshops, and public awareness events to help spread the message.
  • Legislative Action: Policymakers have a crucial role to play in addressing distracted driving. Many states have already enacted laws prohibiting the use of handheld devices while driving, and some have gone even further by banning all cell phone use, including hands-free. Continued advocacy for stronger legislation and enforcement can help deter this dangerous behavior.
  • Technological Solutions: Advances in technology can also play a role in combating distracted driving. Features like “do not disturb” modes on smartphones, which silence incoming calls and messages while driving, can help reduce temptation. Additionally, telematics solutions like Nationwide’s SmartRide app can track driving habits and provide feedback to help motorists improve their safety.

“As we observe Distracted Driving Awareness Month, let us all commit to being more mindful, more focused, and more responsible behind the wheel,” attorney Clark said. “By doing so, we can help save lives and create a future where distracted driving is a thing of the past.”


If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form, text, or chat with us at chainlaw.com.