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Distracted Driving has a New Twist


Recent accidents involving people playing the hugely popular Pokemon Go app while driving have occurred; in Baltimore, a driver of an SUV hit a parked police cruiser, and in Auburn, N.Y., a driver wrapped his car around a tree, to mention just two examples. (Miraculously, neither driver was severely injured). Activities of the fanatical fans--which have included trespassing on private property and wandering into dangerous areas--have led the makers of Pokemon Go to add new safety warnings to the app, most notably the admonition to not play Pokemon Go while driving.

An eye roll and shake of the head will be the response of many to not only the news of the accidents but of the safety warnings now attached to Pokemon Go. Of course people should not play with apps on their smartphones while driving! Yet just as people acknowledge that texting while driving is dangerous but nonetheless do it, using social media while driving has become the newest--and deadliest--distraction.


The smartphone has become an inescapable part of modern life. With so many apps to choose from--Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Instagram, to name a few--using social media is almost a national pastime. Unfortunately, smartphones and our addiction to them follow us into our cars, and posting to social media while driving is now a trend (under #whiledriving). Even apps such as GoogleMaps, a helpful navigational tool, can still divert a driver's eyes from the road to the phone screen. According to the Centers for Disease Control, looking at your phone to read one text or to post something to social media is equal to driving the length of a football field with your eyes off the road.

The statistics on using social media while driving are staggering. Nearly 70% of teens admit to using apps while driving according to a just-released survey of 2,500 high school-age children across the country. But the temptation to think that using apps and social media while driving is a teenage problem should be avoided. A survey by the National Safety Council of 2,400 drivers of all ages found that: 74% said they would use Facebook while driving; 37% said they would use Twitter; 35% said they would use YouTube; and 33% said they would use Instagram. An April 2016 study by Erie Insurance bears these statistics out, pointing to the current trend of taking pictures and posting them to social media while driving under the above-noted hashtag #whiledriving.


Currently, 46 states (including Georgia), D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have a total ban on text messaging for all drivers. The ban has not prevented ubiquitous texting while driving; 8 people are killed everyday by distracted driving. States could enact legislation to ban using social media and any apps while driving, but with the abysmal success rate of texting bans, efforts at new legislation seem misdirected.

Perhaps a better way to stop distracted driving is to use technology--an ironic use of technology to control itself. Devices such as CellSAFE and Skybloc can deactivate the cellphone signal of a driver, except for 911 calls. However, current law prohibits anyone except the federal government from using electronic jamming devices, and so far Congress has resisted changing the law. Just this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined CTS Technology $34.9 million for merchandising cellular jamming devices. The FCC considers the proper functioning of cellular and GPS systems crucial to public safety. But eliminating distractions to driving caused by those systems is also crucial to public safety. Technology that targets only the functioning of the driver's systems and yet does not prevent emergency calls seems to be a reasonable balance. Perhaps this is the technology that should be the latest innovation installed on high-tech dashboards--next to the GPS and parking assist.


Distracted driving comes in all forms. It can be a crying child in the back seat, a phone call, a text, or posting something on social media. Regardless of the form, it causes accidents. If you or someone you love has been involved in an accident with a distracted driver, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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