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Can Cellphones Be Made Safer for Driving?

A recent article at Slate.com noted the nation is in the midst of a huge spike in roadway fatalities featuring “the biggest back-to-back increase in motor vehicle-related death rates per mile driven in more than 50 years.”  Naturally, there is a determined search for culprits, with various “experts, writers, and organizations” pointing to cellphones and other technological distractions. While not all data implicate cellphones (the U.S. Department of Transportation attributes “only about nine percent of traffic deaths to distracted driving in general and far fewer to phone use specifically”), the nonprofit National Safety Council believes cellphone-related crashes are undercounted and believes a better estimate of distracted driving fatalities would be 18 percent.

Various government entities have considered the issue of cellphone-impaired driving, and the overwhelming majority of states have instituted partial or complete bans on handheld cellphone use while driving. The U.S. Department of Transportation under President Obama attempted to address the issue in two phases. In 2013, Phase One called upon auto manufacturers to voluntarily adopt guidelines for reducing distractions posed by built-in dashboard electronics.

Phase Two, which was also voluntary, came in the fall of 2016 and urged manufacturers to link portable devices to a vehicle’s infotainment system for hands-free use and to create a Driver Mode interface, which would prevent calls from going through while the phone was in motion. The industry did not embrace Phase Two, and has called for the Trump Administration to review the policy de novo.

However, some innovations have come in the form of Apple’s Do Not Disturb While Driving mode, which responds to a text with a brief message explaining the user is driving and cannot be reached at the moment. The popular navigation app Waze also disables some cellphone functionality when it detects a car is moving. On the other hand, the Apple feature relies on the user to activate driving mode, and the Waze app allows the user to override its disabling feature.

Manufacturers are naturally skittish about putting limitations on how customers can use their technology. Features that would make a phone inoperable while the user was in motion would prevent passengers from making a phone call and, in an extreme case, deny kidnapping victims a means to signal help. They have a point when they assert the technology is not at fault. The user must exercise self-control and responsibility while driving. However, more and more studies are demonstrating the addictive nature of cellphones, especially among adolescents.

At Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban, we understand there are no easy answers when it comes to balancing freedom with safety. We urge every driver to act responsibly and, while driving, to keep their focus where it belongs: on the road.

Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban represents clients injured in auto accidents anywhere in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Our attorneys have more than 200 years of combined experience. Call us at (888) 351-1038 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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