At this point, most drivers know that texting and driving is dangerous. To some degree, it’s very easy to see why. If you look at the phone, you’re not looking at the road, and that can cause an accident. Simple, right?

Not really. The lack of visual focus is just one part of the equation. It does matter, as does taking one hand off of the wheel to pick up your phone. But the deeper reason for the risk is that texting takes your attention off of driving.

Mental focus is crucial. You need to be looking at the road around you, taking in that information and then processing it. This means understanding that a car waiting in the other lane is about to turn or noting that road construction coming up ahead likely means cars will slow down. It’s the process of seeing someone coming down the on-ramp on the interstate and checking to see if it’s safe to move over into the left lane to let them on. You’re focused on multiple areas, and you’re really paying attention to driving safely.

When you don’t do this, instead getting distracted by the phone, all you can do is react. Your attention is on the phone, and things seem to happen without warning. You’re suddenly at the back of the traffic backup, still going 70 miles per hour. That car next to you is suddenly merging in front of you, and the lane to your left is full. It feels like things happen quickly, but the truth is just that you didn’t pay attention until the last second.

Understanding this risk can help to keep you from texting and driving, but others are still going to do it. If you get injured in an accident one of them causes, you need to know what legal rights you have.