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Liberty Mutual releases worrying distracted driving study

The results of a recent Liberty Mutual Insurance study suggest that virtually all New York drivers consider themselves to be highly skilled behind the wheel despite regularly behaving in ways that place other road users in great danger. Only 2% of the European and American motorists polled by the insurer did not rate their driving skills as excellent. The vast majority of them were also extremely critical of other drivers.

Other driver polls have uncovered the same kind of cognitive dissonance, but the Liberty Mutual study is particularly worrying. When millennials were asked about cellphone use behind the wheel, 86% of them admitted to the behavior, and most said they used the devices to send texts, watch videos and check social media. An alarming number of the respondents also admitted to running red lights, ignoring stop signs and speeding. Drivers tended to brush off their routinely dangerous behavior by making excuses such as encountering heavy traffic or running late for an appointment.

The results of the study also reveal that technology designed to make driving safer could actually be making the roads more dangerous. Hands-free cellphones, car stereos and navigation systems are controlled by voice commands so that drivers can keep their eyes on the road, but the answers given by respondents suggest that giving motorists multitasking capabilities leads them to believe that they are far more capable than they actually are. One of the Liberty Mutual researchers stressed that any activity that causes a driver's attention to wander could cause a car accident even if their eyes never leave the road.

Drivers who crash while staring at their cellphones rarely face criminal charges because proving distraction beyond any reasonable doubt is very difficult. However, the burden of proof is not as strict in civil court. Plaintiffs may prevail by convincing the jury that their account of events is more likely true than not, and experienced personal injury attorneys may seek to accomplish this in distracted driving cases by introducing subpoenaed cellphone records.

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