Zooming and driving? Ohio state senator Andrew Brenner made headlines this year for some questionable behind-the-wheel behavior. A May 2021 news story revealed nearly 13 minutes of video footage showing Brenner attending a state board meeting against the backdrop of a home office—with a seatbelt across his chest.
The senator defended his actions by claiming he was not distracted, and was merely listening to the conference while driving safely, much as one would listen to a podcast, radio, or music. In fact, Brenner was following the law by using hand-free audio technology rather than manually operating his mobile device.
But many were quick to point out the obvious danger of the situation, calling attention to Brenner’s frequent glances at his phone screen as an indication of his distracted state. And in a twist of irony, the Ohio state government was that very week in the process of passing legislation to limit cell phone use while driving, in part addressing the results of a survey showing distracted driving to be the top concern of Ohio drivers.
Senator Brenner’s board meeting blunder brought attention to what is becoming an increasingly relevant issue: videoconferencing while driving. Between busy work schedules, long daily car commutes, and an escalating pervasiveness of remote work, many people give in to the pressures to combine work-related tasks with driving. But this can create extremely dangerous conditions for distracted drivers themselves, passengers, pedestrians, and other drivers. If you were hurt in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, our attorneys are prepared to discuss the potential legal actions you can take to help protect others on the road.
What Is Videoconferencing?
A videoconference, or video teleconference, is a meeting between multiple parties connecting through the medium of video. Businesses, government bodies, schools and institutes of education, and even social groups use this technology to communicate when gathering all involved parties in a single location is not feasible or desirable. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations turned in record numbers to this more socially-distanced conferencing option and words like “zooming” swiftly became part of the public vernacular. The Zoom software program itself is only one of a number of popular videoconferencing platforms. Google Meet, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Facebook, GoToMeeting, RingCentral Video, and ClickMeeting also offer similar online face-to-face meeting capabilities. And the number of companies offering this service continues to grow.
For those unfamiliar with the structure of a videoconference, the three main components are live, face-to-face video, accompanying audio, and text and file sharing. Just like an in-person meeting, participants can engage in conversation, listen to presentations, raise hands and ask questions, type notes and text messages, read shared documents, and view slides provided by other participants. These kinds of activities usually happen within the secure and stationary confines of an office, boardroom, or conference room, where participants can safely devote their full attention to the meeting. But with the advances of videoconferencing technology, they can now happen at any place and at any time. As we have seen, they can even happen behind the wheel.
The Dangers of Distracted Driving: Statistics
In the case of Senator Andrew Brenner’s decision to attend a videoconference while driving, much attention was paid to the number of times he looked at the phone while operating his vehicle. During one 23-second stretch, he glanced toward his phone screen ten separate times.
Distracted driving is operating a motor vehicle while performing another activity that takes your attention away from the task of driving. This dangerous behavior has been proven through multiple studies to increase the chance of a crash. The following statistics shed some light on the incidence and impact of distracted driving in the United States and in the state of Texas:
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about eight people are killed every day in the U.S. in crashes involving a distracted driver.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 3,142 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2019, an increase over the previous year.
- The 2018 NHTSA report showed that over 2,800 people were killed and 400,000 injured in traffic accidents involving distracted driving.
- The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has stated that one in five crashes in Texas is caused by distracted driving.
- A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that drivers who spent the most driving time interacting with a cellphone also had the highest rates of crashes and near-crashes.
- One often-referenced fact published by the NHTSA states that glancing at a screen takes your eyes off the road for an average of 5 seconds, which, when driving at 55 mph, is equivalent to driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.
Texas Laws on Cell Phone Use While Driving
The Texas Department of Transportation adamantly recommends that all drivers refrain from cell phone use while operating a vehicle, regardless of the particular laws of your city or state. If you need to make a phone call, answer a call, or send or read a message, come to a complete stop in a safe area before doing so. It is important to familiarize yourself with all local laws regarding mobile device use while driving. This can also better prepare you to anticipate the actions of other drivers.
- Texting while driving is illegal for all drivers in every part of the state.
- In Texas, using any handheld device in your vehicle in a school zone is prohibited.
- School bus drivers may not use cell phones while children are present.
- Drivers under the age of 18 are not allowed to use any wireless communications devices while driving.
- Multiple cities, including San Antonio, Austin, Midlothian, Amarillo, Laredo, and El Paso have implemented bans against any hand-held mobile device usage while driving within city limits.
Buckingham & Vega Law Firm Wants to Keep Midland Safe
Midland, TX is not one of the cities with hands-free driving laws. No matter where you are driving, and what local laws have been enacted to fight distracted driving, the safest driving is defensive driving. Always be on guard against drivers whose actions can cause severe injury and even death to those around them. At Buckingham & Vega Law Firm, we believe attentiveness and accountability are top priorities in the battle to make our roads safer for all of us. If you are in need of an experienced lawyer after a car accident, contact our office to set up a free, no-obligation discussion with one of our attorneys.