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Hands-Free Technology Causing Increased Driver Distraction


A study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that was released on March 25, 2015, found that distracted driving was a factor in 58% of moderate to severe motor vehicle crashes involving teens. This represents a dramatic increase from the number of teen crashes in which distracted driving played a role according to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration; by the estimation of the NHTSA, distracted driving only accounted for 14% of teen crashes. The new study by the AAA Foundation analyzed crash videos from 1,700 dash cam videos, scrutinizing the last seconds before the crash to discern the activity of the driver and passengers. The analysis determined that the most common type of distraction among teen drivers is interacting with other passengers; this occurred in 15% of crashes. The next most common type of distraction was the ubiquitous cell phone use; this occurred in 12% of accidents among teen drivers. Other behaviors such as looking at people on the sidewalk or singing to music, etc., accounted for the rest of the distractions leading to crashes.

Distracted driving is fast replacing drunk driving as the leading cause of teen driving deaths. While drunk driving campaigns have successfully stigmatized drinking and driving, and teens today are educated with respect to the dangers of drinking and driving, distracted driving has no such stigma and its dangers have yet to be quantified and clearly defined. In fact, laws either fail to regulate distracted driving adequately, or fail to be adequately enforced. In addition, technology continues to be added to cars which pushes the boundaries of laws--and drivers' attention.


Georgia passed its law prohibiting texting while driving in 2010. Although state lawmakers considered banning any use of hand-held cell phones, they ultimately rejected that approach in favor of the narrower limitation on texting while driving. Thus, drivers over 18 can use hand-held cell phones for making calls but not for texting.

But as so often happens with technology, innovations move faster than the laws designed to regulate them. Hands-free technologies such as Apple Watch, Google Glass, and in-car voice-activated systems such as Apple CarPlay, all challenge the conventional idea of a driver holding his or her distracting device in hand. Does the "no texting while driving" ban apply if a driver is verbally texting into a dashboard-connected phone? What about a blue-tooth? If the prohibition does apply, would not the same logic apply to a driver who is sending an email via the same hands-free technology?

Some in-car vehicle technology allows drivers to connect with the Internet in order to check stock quotes, find hotel rooms and restaurants, check forecasts, and do online banking. These "connected cars" would not necessarily require drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel, but these features do arguably require taking one's mind and perhaps eyes--off the road. Yet current laws prohibiting texting while driving (or even the stricter laws in some states which prohibit all cell phone use while driving) would not apply to the use of these systems or hands-free technologies. With automakers hurrying to develop infotainment systems for new vehicles and to connect everyone--including drivers--to wifi, it may be time to draft new, more specific legislation regarding permissible technology while driving.


If you have been involved in an accident due to driver distraction, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm.

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