Conveniently distracted: Hands-free devices often perilous for drivers

single-meta-cal March 22, 2024

Modern technology is an integral part of our lives, seamlessly woven into our daily routines. However, the convenience and connectivity offered by smartphones and other wireless devices have also introduced a perilous element to our roads: distracted driving.

With Huntsville’s new hands-free ordinance now in effect, we’re delving into the dangers posed by distracted driving and exploring ways to combat this silent killer.

A rack card featuring information about the City's new hands-free ordinance. A man at the top is holding his phone while driving. There is text below offering more information about the ordinance.

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving refers to any activity that diverts a driver’s attention away from the task of operating a vehicle. While many assume that distracted driving primarily involves texting or talking on the phone, the reality is far more nuanced. Distractions can take numerous forms, including:

  • Texting or using a smartphone
  • Making phone calls
  • Eating or drinking
  • Adjusting the radio or music playlist
  • Applying makeup or grooming
  • Conversing with passengers
  • Daydreaming or being lost in thought

The dangers lurking behind the wheel

The consequences of distracted driving can be catastrophic, not only for the driver but also for passengers, pedestrians and others on the road.

Here’s a glimpse into the sobering realities of this behavior:

  • Increased risk of accidents: Studies have shown that engaging in distracting activities while driving significantly increases the likelihood of accidents. Texting, in particular, is one of the most dangerous forms of distraction, as it diverts visual, manual and cognitive attention simultaneously.
  • Impaired reaction time: When drivers are distracted, their ability to react promptly to hazards or unexpected situations diminishes. Split-second decisions can mean the difference between life and death on the road, and distractions impair this critical aspect of driving.
  • Loss of focus: Driving requires sustained attention and concentration. Any diversion from this focus, no matter how brief, can result in lapses in judgment, missed traffic signals or failure to observe pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Fatal consequences: The ramifications of distracted driving can be irreversible. Each year, thousands of lives are lost due to accidents caused by distracted drivers. These tragedies leave families shattered and communities reeling from loss.

Combatting the epidemic

A victim of distracted driving, Council President David Little helped champion the passage of Huntsville’s new hands-free law in October 2023. Little, whose vehicle was hit head-on by a distracted driver 16 years ago, has spent nearly every day since that fateful wreck fighting to increase awareness of and find solutions to this deadly epidemic.

A rack card with information about the City's hands-free ordinance.

The new ordinance prohibits drivers from doing the following while operating a motor vehicle:

  • Using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, read or otherwise engage in any text-based communication
  • Watching, recording or capturing photo or video
  • Engaging in voice-based communication while holding a wireless telecommunications device or
  • Physically holding or otherwise supporting a wireless telecommunications device with any part of their body.

Upgrading the City’s former no-text ordinance from a secondary to a primary offense may not singlehandedly solve the distracted driving crisis, but it’s a positive step in the right direction, Little says.

“While we won’t see change overnight, we know this law will pay dividends in the future,” he said. “As someone who nearly lost his life in a crash caused by a distracted driver, I’m hopeful the community will offer their support not just because it’s the law – but because it’s the right thing to do to help keep ourselves and our neighbors safe.”

Together, we can create a safer, more responsible driving culture for generations to come. Remember, no text, call or distraction is worth risking a life. Drive safely, stay focused and save lives.

Learn more about the City’s Hands-Free Ordinance here.