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Careless or Distracted Driving Accident Laws in Wisconsin: Reaction Time In An Accident

On Apr 20, 2017

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness month, which is an issue we understand to be extremely important as a personal injury attorney representing those injured in harmful accidents. Wisconsin’s cell phone law makes it illegal for any driver with a probationary license or an instructional permit to use a cell phone while driving. Wis. Stat. §346.89(4)(a). It is also illegal for any Wisconsin driver to text while driving. The statute actually states that it is illegal to compose or send a text message or “an electronic mail message.” This language appears to make it illegal to compose or send any email message. Wis. Stat. §346.89(3)(a). In addition, the Inattentive Driving law of Wisconsin prohibits driving while being engaged in any “activity, other than driving the vehicle, that interferes or reasonably appears to interfere with the person’s ability to drive the vehicle safely”. Wis. Stat. §346.89(1). All three of these laws are meant to deter drivers from paying less than full attention to driving while their car is moving.

While some drivers think they can react in time if an emergency presents itself, more accidents occur when drivers are engaged in attention diverting activities. Any moving car, truck, bus or motorcycle requires the driver’s full attention. Any momentary diversion of a driver’s attention combined with the vehicle’s speed can cause an accident. Speed compounds the risk greatly. For instance, take an example of a driver who is driving a car at the 70 m.p.h. speed limit on a Wisconsin freeway and who then looks at his or her cell phone for 3 seconds. Although there is no "normal" reaction time to an emergency, it is often assumed that reaction time is 1.5 seconds.
 

This is the time that it takes to perceive the signal that tells the person an emergency is present plus the movement of the person’s body in reaction to that stimulus: i.e. putting one’s foot from the gas pedal to the brake, according to visualexperts.

Assuming that the vehicle reacts immediately to the brake being pressed, this person has Distracted Driving Infographic.pngtravelled 4.5 seconds while he or she looked at the cell phone and then reacted. (3 seconds + 1.5 seconds = 4.5 seconds). Driving at 70 m.p.h. during 4.5 seconds, the vehicle travelled over 450 feet or more than 1½ football fields. These are calculations that a car accident lawyer will analyze if speed was an issue in an accident.

This is calculated as follows: 70 miles per hour x 5,280 feet per mile = 369,600. This is the number of feet per hour that the car is travelling. Divide 369,600 feet by 60 minutes (in an hour) and this shows that the vehicle is travelling 6,160 feet per minute. Divide 6,160 feet by 60 seconds (in each minute) and this equals 102.7 feet per second that the car is travelling. Therefore, looking at an electronic device for 3 seconds plus the reaction time, causes the driver’s attention to be diverted while the vehicle travelled over 450 feet. Even looking at a phone for 1 second plus normal reaction time, results in the vehicle travelling over 250 feet, or close to an entire football field, in the time that the driver was distracted.

This is why it is so dangerous for an automobile driver to divert any attention to any electronic device, whether it is to text, email, search for information, dial a number or even press one command.

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Patrick J. Schott

By Patrick J. Schott

Patrick J. Schott is a founding shareholder of Schott, Bublitz & Engel, s.c. His practice is devoted to complex litigation.

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