Apps May Be Responsible for Recent Traffic Death Spike

What is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving refers to activities that may divert an individual’s attention away from driving. All distracted driving activities—using a cell phone, smartphone, tablet, etc.—endanger the driver, passenger(s), and bystander(s) safety. According to, texting; consuming food or beverages; talking to passengers; grooming; reading, including maps; using a navigation system; watching a video; or adjusting a radio or CD or MP3 player are also examples of activities that contribute to distracted driving.

Studies have revealed that it is impossible to safely text when driving. In fact, in a prior national, anonymous survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) found that most—58 percent—of the high school senior students and 43 percent of the high school juniors surveyed admitted to texting or emailing on their devices in the prior month when driving, according to an Associated Press (AP) report. Other studies prior to this, did suggest texting and driving was common, but never revealed the rates were this high.

A new The New York Times report notes that Snapchat, a messaging app, enables drivers to post photographs that record the speed of their vehicles; Waze, a navigation app, provides drivers with points when they report an accident or traffic snarl; and Pokémon Go, a location-based reality game sends players, including drivers, in search of virtual creatures, which may be on highways.

Parker Waichman LLP is a national personal injury law firm that represents numerous clients in accident injury lawsuits. The firm continues to offer free legal consultations to anyone with questions about filing a lawsuit involving distracted driving.

Distracted Driving Crashes Rising

A decade ago, when distracted driving began emerging as an issue, the problem typically involved drivers making cellphone calls or sending text messages. To help minimize the issue, new vehicle technologies were implemented to ensure a driver’s hands remained on the steering when; however, other technological innovations—car Wi-Fi and new apps, for example—have led to a rise in internet use in vehicles. Safety experts say this has contributed to an increase in highway deaths, according to The New York Times.

Highway deaths had steadily declined over the past forty years; however, in 2015, the largest yearly percentage increase was seen in over 50 years and 2016 is looking worse. In fact, according to The New York Times, in the first six months of this year, there was a 10.4 percent increase in highway deaths to 17,775 over the same period in 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicated. “This is a crisis that needs to be addressed now,” Mark R. Rosekind, the head of the agency, told The New York Times in an interview.

On October 26, 2016, a crash near Tampa, Florida left five people dead; the Florida Highway Patrol is investigating. Meanwhile, the teenaged crash passenger in one of the cars was recording a Snapchat video that revealed her car was moving at 115 miles per hour just prior to the crash.

In another case, a lawsuit filed in a Georgia court alleges that a teenage driver in a September 2015 crash near Atlanta was also using Snapchat while driving more than 100 miles per hour court records indicate. That car crashed into the car of an Uber driver who was seriously injured.

Efforts to Minimize Distracted Driving in Question

In response to the continuing spikes in distracted driving crashes, the Department of Transportation (DOT) developed a plan in October 2016 to collaborate with the National Safety Council and other advocacy groups for a “Road to Zero” strategy. “Road to Zero’s” goal is to eliminate roadway deaths within the next three decades, according to The New York Times.

Anthony Foxx, the Obama administration’s transportation secretary, noted that, in the short-term, changes in regulations, laws, and standards would have to be identified to help minimize deaths. This might involve all states implementing stringent laws that would mandate seatbelt use in cars and wearing a helmet when on a motorcycle, while also enforcing distracted or drunken driving regulations and tightening heavy truck regulation, Mr. Foxx told The New York Times. Another effort involves a focus on longer-term goals with the quick implementation of what The New York Times described as “autonomous driving technologies” that safety experts believe may be able to prevent accidents by the removal of distracted individuals from driving. It remains unclear if these plans will be continued in the next administration.

Also at issue is that today’s automated driver-assistance systems, such as Tesla Motors’ Autopilot feature, may lead some drivers to falsely believe they are secure, another issue that may contribute to distracted driving. Most of the new vehicles being sold come with software that connects to a smartphone, enabling drivers to make phone calls, dictate texts, and use various apps hands-free. For example, Ford Motor offers its Sync system; Honda, Hyundai, and Mercedes-Benz offer interfaces; Apple offers CarPlay; and Google offers Android Auto. The New York Times noted that car makers allow people to focus on driving even when they are using their smartphones.

Deborah Hersman, president of the nonprofit National Safety Council and a former chairwoman of the federal National Transportation Safety Board, told The New York Times it remains unclear how the technologies reduce distraction or if the technologies encourage drivers to use more smartphone functions while driving. Hersman also noted that freeing a driver’s hands does not mean that they are driving with a clear head. “It’s the cognitive workload on your brain that’s the problem,” Ms. Hersman said.

Insurance companies, which meticulously track auto accidents, firmly believe that the rise in use of electronic devices while driving is the greatest cause for the increase in road deaths, according to Robert Gordon, a senior vice president of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, wrote The New York Times. “This is a serious public safety concern for the nation,” he noted at a recent conference in Washington held by the National Transportation Safety Board. “We are all trying to figure out to what extent this is the new normal.”

Meanwhile, new cars only comprise a small amount of the 260 million vehicles on the road in the United States and so-called “digital diversion” is more challenging to address in older cars.

Have You Been the Victim of a Distracted Driver?

If you or someone you know was the victim of a distracted driver, you may have valuable legal rights. The distracted driving attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP offer free, no-obligation case evaluations. For more information, fill out our online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).

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