Distracted Driving the Dilemma of the Smartphone

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Smartphones have become part of our society. Everywhere you go you can see people scrolling, typing, or taking pictures with these devices. Our smartphones provide us access to the world through the internet. While these devices have many utilities that make our daily lives easier, they can also pose a threat. According to reports by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, eighteen percent (18%) of all police-reported vehicle crashes in 2014 were the result of distracted drivers.  Drivers using their phones while driving has become such a problem that the Federal Government through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued voluntary guidelines for smartphone manufacturers as well as application developers, which may include such features as “driver mode.” Our Philadelphia car accident lawyers explain.

Texting and Driving Facts

If you are driving a vehicle it is your responsibility to keep both eyes on the road and devote as much attention to the road as possible. However, a casual observation of other drivers on major highways will show that many drivers are seemingly looking down to text or scroll through their smartphones.

Previously, smartphone users were typical teenagers and young adults, however, a recent research report issued by the Pew Research Center indicated that there is a rapid rise of smartphone use and ownership amongst all demographics. According to their survey, sixty-eight percent of all adults in the United States currently own a smartphone. This majority percentage represents a thirty-five percent increase in smartphone ownership over the past four years.  With the increase in the number of smartphone users, there has also been an increase in the number of drivers who are observed testing and driving. According to reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the percentage of drivers who are observed sending text messages or visibly manipulating their handheld device increased by 1.7 percent in 2013 to 2.2 percent in 2014.  Additionally, since 2007 when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began more formal processes of monitoring texting and driving, they have noted that younger drivers who are between the ages of 16 and 24 have a higher rate of texting and driving as compared with older drivers. At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.

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The Problems with Texting and Driving

In 2014, there were 3,179 people killed and an estimated additional 431,000 people wounded in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. An overwhelming percentage of these people were those who were texting and driving, or those using their smartphones. The problems with texting and driving are obvious, they distract drivers, they divert a drivers’ gaze, and they are constantly vying for our attention.

A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study found that if you are driving at 55 mph and take your eyes off the road for the average amount of time it takes to text, five seconds, you will have zoomed the length of a football field without looking at the road. This report went on to state that out of commercial drivers, texting and driving was the single most risky driving behavior a person could engage in, and that texting and driving made drivers nearly twenty-three times more likely of getting into an accident.

The Federal Government’s Plea to Smartphone Manufacturers

Beginning in April of 2010, the NHTSA released its Driver Distraction Plan which communicated the agency’s long-term goal of reducing crashes attributed to distracted driving.  The NHTSA sought to do this through clarifying and announcing their priorities, which were to:

  • Improve understanding of the problem;
  • Reduce workload demands on drivers when they use in-
  • vehicle technologies;
  • Keep distracted drivers safe through use of vehicle safety systems; and
  • Help the public recognize the risks and consequences of distracted driving.

Currently there is no federally enacted ban on texting and using a wireless phone or smartphone, however, 46 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers. Most of these states, with the exclusion of five, have granted officers the ability to pull over and ticket a driver they observe texting and driving without another traffic violation taking place.

In response to less than stellar crash reductions, the NHTSA released proposed guidelines to help address the continuing problem of texting and driving. However, unlike previous plans, which sought to reduce texting and driving by educating drivers, this round of guidelines was issued to smartphone manufacturers. “The Guidelines encourage innovative solutions such as pairing and Driver Mode that, when implemented, will reduce the potential for unsafe driver distraction by limiting the time a driver’s eyes are off the road, while at the same time preserving the full functionality of these devices when they are not used while driving.” One of the means that the NHTSA hopes to implement these changes is by having the driver locked out of certain features while driving including:

  • Displaying video not related to driving;
  • Displaying certain graphical or photographic images;
  • Displaying automatically scrolling text;
  • Manual text entry for the purpose of text-based messaging, other communication, or internet browsing; 
  • Displaying text for reading from books, periodical publications, web page content, social media content, text-based advertising, and marketing, or text-based messages.

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The second means that the NHTSA hopes to employ to discourage drivers from texting and driving includes implementing a “Driver Mode,” which is meant to “provide a simplified interface when the device is being used unpaired while driving, either because pairing is unavailable or the driver decides not to pair,” Visual-Manual NHTSA Driver Distraction Guidelines for Portable and Aftermarket Devices.

As you might imagine, not every smartphone company has been eager to redevelop their technology to conform to the suggested guidelines. Gary Shapiro, of the Consumer Technology Association, says that NHTSA has far overstepped its boundaries and calls the guidelines “extreme.”  However, as technology and driving become ever more integrated, the question remains if these guidelines will eventually become enacted by federal legislation, or if they will merely remain guidelines.

Call for a Free Consultation with a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer

And if you have already been in an accident, please—we beg you—do not rush accept a settlement agreement from an auto insurance company. First, speak to an experienced Northeast Philadelphia personal injury attorney. We understand the costs it can take to rehabilitate from a serious injury. Furthermore, we understand what certain injuries and other damages are worth. Remember, auto insurance adjusters work for the insurance company – not you. They are trained to give you minimal compensation so that the company can have maximum profits.

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