Distracted and Inattentive Vehicle Operation
All road users are responsible for the safe operation of their vehicles on public roads and highways. Advances in mobile technology have made it easier than ever to become momentarily distracted by operating the controls of a stereo system, a global positioning unit, or some other device.
The American Motorcyclist Association acknowledges that motorcyclists – in addition to car drivers, truck drivers, and even bicyclists -- share this responsibility. Distracted motorcycle operation can be every bit as dangerous to the operator, other road users, and pedestrians as the distracted operation of a larger motor vehicle.
The AMA recognizes that distracted or inattentive driving has become a major concern to the motorcycling community. Far too many cases have been documented of motorcyclists being injured or killed as the result of other vehicle operators being distracted or inattentive.
Motor vehicle operators engaged in distracted or inattentive driving behaviors are not just a danger to motorcyclists – they endanger pedestrians, bicyclists, roadside assistance and emergency medical personnel, highway construction workers, law enforcement personnel, and the list goes on. For too long, inappropriate non-driving activities while operating a motor vehicle have been accepted as “just the way it is.”
Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acknowledges that distracted and inattentive driving behaviors have significantly contributed to motor vehicle crashes. From an NHTSA report:
“Driver inattention is the leading factor in most crashes and near-crashes, according to a landmark research report released today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event. Primary causes of driver inattention are distracting activities, such as cell phone use, and drowsiness.”
Within the past few years in nearly every state, new legislation has been introduced to address some facet of distracted or inattentive driving. Most of the bills are well intentioned. However, almost all focus on only one or a few in-vehicle behaviors, such as cell phone or text messaging system use, rather than addressing the main issue. Other bills, particularly those with age-based restrictions or prohibitions, are virtually unenforceable in the real world.
Several bills, however, specify that distracted or inattentive behavior that contributes to a crash would subject the vehicle operator to enhanced penalties, similar to aggravating circumstances such as operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This approach is promising because enhanced penalties for violations resulting in injury or death to other roadway users holds violators more accountable for their actions. Note that specific restrictions or prohibitions are not required – any distracted or inattentive behavior that can be documented prior to a crash can be used as evidence.
Therefore, the AMA supports legislation that includes enhanced penalty options to be determined by the courts. Examples of penalties include the following, but are not limited to enhanced fines, operator’s license suspension, points assessed on an operator’s record, community service, and imprisonment. Additionally, the AMA supports the prominent placement of signage that notifies roadway users that the state provides specific sanctions for those convicted of moving violations while operating a motor vehicle in a distracted or inattentive manner. The inclusion of these sanctions depends on a state’s current penalty structure of similar-magnitude offenses.
The AMA has adopted this position statement on distracted and inattentive motor vehicle operation because roadway users such as motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians pay a disproportionately higher price for motor vehicle operator distraction and inattention.
"Breakthrough Research on Real-World Driver Behavior Released,” NHTSA, April 20, 2006
The 100 Car Naturalistic Driving Study (PDF), NHTSA
DOT HS 808 536, The 100 Car Naturalistic Driving Study Phase I – Experimental Design (PDF) NHTSA
An Overview of the 100-Car Naturalistic Study and Findings (PDF) Vicki L. Neale, et al