Are Apps to Blame for Biggest Surge in Traffic Fatalities in 50 Years?

Apps Blamed for Surge in Traffic Fatalities in 50 Years
Apps Blamed for Surge in Traffic Fatalities in 50 Years

Approximately ten years ago, distracted driving became a topic of conversation and concern mainly with drivers making phone calls or texting from their cell phones while driving. The logical solution appeared to be “hands-free” technology enabling drivers to make calls or text and keep drivers’ hands on the wheel. An array of new apps and car Wi-Fi have led to a spike in internet use in vehicles that, according to safety experts, is contributing to a spike in highway fatalities, the New York Times reports.

Over the last 40 years, there was a steady decline, but highway deaths last year recorded the biggest annual percentage increase in five decades. The numbers this year are even more alarming. Highway deaths in the first six months of 2016 jumped 10.4 percent, to 17,775, from the comparable timeframe in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Mark R. Rosekind, the head of the NHTSA said, “This is a crisis that needs to be addressed now.”

Accidents Related to Distractions

On October 26, a crash near Tampa killed five people. The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating the accident. A teen passenger in one car, recorded a Snapchat video showing the vehicle she was in as traveling at 115 miles per hour (mph) right before the collision, according to the Times.

A teenage driver was in a September 2015 crash near Atlanta. The teen’s car hit the car of an Uber driver, who was severely injured. A lawsuit filed in a Georgia court claims the teenage driver was using Snapchat while driving over 100 mph according to court records.

Attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP are actively reviewing potential lawsuits on behalf of individuals who have been involved in car accidents.

Plans to Address the Rise in Roadway Fatalities

In October, extremely concerned by the statistics, the Department of Transportation (DOT) devised a plan to cooperate with the National Safety Council and additional advocacy groups to create a “Road to Zero” strategy. The DOT’s plan has the ambitious goal of eliminating roadway fatalities within 30 years.

Anthony Foxx, the Obama administration’s transportation secretary said, the effort would involve identifying changes in regulations, laws, and standards that would aid in the reduction of fatalities. These efforts might include tightening all states’ law enforcement regarding use of seatbelts in cars and helmets on motorcycles, as well as cracking down on drunken or distracted driving. More stringent regulation of heavy trucks may be included in the effort, according to Mr. Foxx, reports the Times.

Stepping up the introduction of autonomous-driving technologies may be another action that safety experts say may have the potential to prevent accidents by removing distracted human beings from the driving equation. However, the Autopilot feature by Tesla Motors, may be lulling some drivers into a false sense of security that may end up contributing to distracted driving, the Times reports.

The majority of new vehicles currently sold have software that connects to a smartphone and permits the driver to dictate texts, place phone calls, and use apps, hands-free. For example, Ford Motor has its Sync system, Honda, Hyundai, and Mercedes-Benz, offer their own interfaces along with Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto. Automakers claim these systems allow customers to focus on driving even while interacting with their smartphones.

“The whole principle is to bring voice recognition to customers so they can keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel,” said Alan Hall, a spokesman for Ford. Ford began installing Sync in cars as early as 2007. Since that time, Ford has added features to lessen distractions, such as a “do not disturb button” that allows drivers to block incoming calls and texts.

CarPlay permits use of the iPhone’s Siri virtual assistant to answer phone calls, dictate texts and use apps like Pandora and Spotify. CarPlay and Sync present simplified menus on the car’s dash display to reduce distraction and turn off the phone’s screen, thereby eliminating the urge to use the device manually, the Times reports.

Deborah Hersman, president of the nonprofit National Safety Council and a former chairwoman of the federal National Transportation Safety Board, remarked it was not definite if these various technologies reduced distraction, or, rather, encouraged people to multi-task on their phones even more. “Freeing drivers’ hands does not necessarily clear their heads. It’s the cognitive workload on your brain that’s the problem,” Ms. Hersman said.

Technology in New Cars to Compensate for Distractions

A retired neurosurgeon, Dr. William Chandler in Ann Arbor, Michigan, recently bought a 2017 BMW X5 sport utility vehicle that alerts him if he drifts out of his lane on the highway or if there is a car in his blind spot. A heads-up display on the front windshield projects his speed, the speed limit and navigation information and is Dr. Chandler’s favorite feature.

However, new cars only make up a small percentage of the 260 million vehicles on the road in the United States. Digital diversion is more difficult to gauge in older models.

Brett Hudson, a 26-year-old teacher in Jackson, Michigan, said his iPhone 6 Plus is essential to his daily commute in his 2002 Chevrolet TrailBlazer. He uses Apple Maps to navigate, listens to music on Pandora and gets his favorite Michigan football call-in program on iHeart Radio. To lessen the time he looks at the phone, Mr. Hudson installed a Bluetooth system for hands-free phone calls. The iPhone is on a clip attached to an air vent, which allows him to see the screen while the road is still in his field of vision.

Apps Blamed for Surge in Traffic Fatalities in 50 Years
Apps Blamed for Surge in Traffic Fatalities in 50 Years

Mr. Hudson admits the set-up is not risk-free. “I’ve noticed that when I do have to touch the phone,” he said, “my brain becomes so totally focused, even in that short period of time, and I don’t really remember what’s happening on the road in those four or five seconds,” the Times reports.

Insurance companies are sure that the increasing use of electronic devices while driving is the biggest cause of the rise in road fatalities, according to Robert Gordon, a senior vice president of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. “We are all trying to figure out to what extent this is the new normal,” reports the Times.

Legal Help and Information

Parker Waichman has years of experience representing clients in auto accident lawsuits. If you or someone you know, has been involved in an accident, you may have valuable legal rights. We urge you to contact the Parker Waichman accident lawyers at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).