While most of us wouldn't even consider watching a movie, cooking a meal or breaking out our laptop behind the wheel, some people do -- and more frequently than you would think.
Call them extreme distracted drivers.
While there are no hard statistics on how many accidents and fatalities are caused by extreme distracted drivers, there are plenty of stats on distracted driving in general. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Distraction.gov:
- 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011. Additionally, 387,000 people were injured by distracted driving.
- Nearly one in five crashes or 18 percent of accidents involved a distracted driver in 2010.
Clearly, distraction comes in many forms, and only some of them such as texting are specifically addressed by law. Does the state need to write a law for every extreme-distraction contingency -- say, a law against eating spaghetti and meatballs?
Not at all.
In many cases, extreme distracted driving equates to reckless driving. According to Thomas J. Simeone of Simeone & Miller, LLP, "Extreme distracted driving can definitely amount to reckless driving. As an example, the District of Columbia's definition of reckless driving includes 'driving in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property.' As you can imagine, a jury could easily find driving while reading a book as 'likely to endanger any person or property.' "
Even if you avoid a reckless driving charge, many states will issue a "careless driving" ticket.
"One of the most outrageous things that I see people do is read a book or map on their steering wheel," Capt. Jeff Goodwin of the Colorado State Patrol says. "In those cases I have ticketed them for careless driving."
A reckless or careless driving charge can seriously impact your car insurance rates. Penny Gusner, consumer analyst with CarInsurance.com, says, "Reckless driving is normally a major offense, and your insurance surcharge could be up to 30 percent or more. In North Carolina, it's four points and equal to an 80 percent rate increase."
Here are the most outrageous examples of extreme distracted driving we could find. Read them and weep:
Eating: A 2010 Chubb Group survey found that 63 percent of drivers admitted eating behind the wheel and 90 percent said they had seen other drivers snacking. But is that "extreme"?
Actually, yes. Eating while driving can be extremely dangerous. A study done by the University of Leeds found that drivers who are eating had reaction times up to 44 percent slower than normal -- which makes eating behind the wheel more dangerous than texting.
Cooking a meal: While most of us have eaten behind the wheel, a truck driver in Britain went one step further. In 2010, police busted a trucker warming up food on a stove in his cab while cruising down the highway. While there is no mention of the dish he was cooking, it was a $150 meal after he was fined.
British police use unmarked tractor trailers so they can spot unsafe behaviors not visible to an officer in a regular patrol car. One officer drives and the other uses a handheld video camera to record the violation.
There's personal grooming: The Illinois State Police recently set up a distracted driving sting on the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago. They pulled over one driver who was shaving. He claimed he was running late and trying to multitask. Luckily it was only an electric shaver; he got off with a warning.
Shaving is not the only personal grooming happening out on the road. A 2011 survey from the website Healthday found that 14 percent of drivers had applied makeup on the road and 7 percent do it on a regular basis.
And then there's personal grooming: In 2010, a driver in Key West, Fla., decided to shave her bikini area behind the wheel. Luckily, her ex-husband was in the passenger seat and willing to steer the vehicle. It all ended badly when they rear-ended another vehicle, left the scene and then tried to swap places because the driver had been convicted of a DUI the day before.
"About 10 years ago I stopped a guy in the exact same spot ... who had three or four syringes sticking out of his arm," the state trooper who answered the call told KeyNews.com. "It was just surreal and I thought, 'Nothing will ever beat this.' Well, this takes it."
Getting dressed: The Chubb survey reported that 18 percent had seen another driver changing clothes behind the wheel and 3 percent admitted doing it themselves. It appears that the practice is so widespread that Ehow.com found it necessary to post a best practices article on the subject.
There can be deadly results: In 2011, two Washington women received prison sentences for a crash that led to the deaths of three people. The driver was changing her sweater; her passenger was steering.
And getting undressed: It seems like Chicago drivers are taking distracted driving to all sorts of extremes. A video of a couple having sex while driving on the Eisenhower Expressway was shot in 2011 but only recently went viral. The footage was shot by a couple of shocked drivers who noticed the completely illegal and extremely dangerous maneuver taking place in the minivan one lane over.
Two-fisted texting: Imagine texting on two phones simultaneously while driving with your knees. Now put a 3-year-old in the back seat, slip $5,000 cash into the glove compartment and distribute large quantities of Xanax, oxycodone and marijuana to your adult passengers. The Mississippi man arrested in Mobile, Ala., told police that he had been "double texting" since he was 15 years old.
Hey, watch this! You would think that it goes without saying that watching TV while driving is a horrid idea and that doing so with 40 tons of goods in tow is an even worse one. Yet the German trucker who pulled into an inspection station in Wales wanted to chat about the war movie he was watching. He managed to avoid a ticket because no one had actually witnessed him driving and watching at the same time.
Governing while driving: While there are many examples of people reading behind the wheel, one of the most egregious is Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford, who was photographed perusing a document while driving his Escalade. Asked about it by a reporter, he said, "I'm trying to catch up on my work and you know I keep my eyes on the road, but I'm a busy man. … Ridiculous questions sometimes, seriously."
Braking bad: Even Walter White parked his RV to cook meth, but police say a couple from Pennsylvania decided to stay out on the streets with their drug operation. The two were caught driving around Newark, Del., in July with what appeared to be an active meth cook in the vehicle. While originally pulled over for failing to use a turn signal, police soon surrounded the car and a Hazmat unit was dispatched to dispose of the chemicals found inside the couple's Ford Taurus station wagon.
Hello, ladies: Direct Line, an insurance company in Britain, found that a whopping 60 percent of men it surveyed admitted ogling women from the driver's seat; only 12 percent of women were willing to admit that they had been distracted by a good-looking man. Their research concluded that wandering eyes are responsible for almost 1 million crashes in Britain every year, or 2,525 a day. Numbers rise during the summer months.
When your office goes 60 mph: Last month, a teen in Clifton Park, N.Y., was using a laptop just before his car drifted into oncoming traffic, causing a pileup and injuring three people, police there say. In other cases, investigators have found plugged-in laptops at the scenes of accidents, but no survivors to question.
According to that 2011 Healthday survey, 13 percent of respondents admitted to surfing the Internet while driving and 9 percent are doing it on a regular basis.
Public servants, caught on tape: Any kind of distraction becomes extreme when there are 40 passengers behind you. It's likely that every one of them has a cellphone, and sometimes they fight back:
- In September, a Florida eighth-grader taped her school bus driver texting on the road.
- In August, A Chicago Transit Authority passenger nabbed the bus driver with a spoon in one hand and a McDonald's strawberry sundae in the other.
- Last month, in Hong Kong, a train driver was filmed clipping his toenails.
- A little older, but still a goodie: A passenger on Oahu Transit gathered video of the driver playing a handheld video game.