In Washington State and across the nation, laws have begun to be ratified that levy heavy fines and other penalties on drivers that drive while texting or talking on the phone without using a headset. However, many safety advocates recommend that this be extended to other similar devices such as tablets (iPad, Kindle, etc.) and personal music devices (iPod, MP3 player, etc.). All of these fall under the category of Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs).

This trend and safety advocate concerns have not fallen on deaf ears. Ray LaHood, the Chairman of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has made many very public statements against the use of cell phones by both commercial drivers and the larger public. Not only that, there has been very large public committee meetings in both congress and senate concerning this issue.

All of this has led up to today, where the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) called for a national ban on the use of PEDs, the first large government organization to make such a drastic move.

Distracted Driving Research

This decision comes after some pretty extensive research. Though car phones have been available for several decades, they were exclusively used by the wealthy. In the words of NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman, distracted driving has been a problem “since the Model T.” This changed in the early ninties, when low priced and free cell phones entered the market. Almost overnight it was apparent that there was a new danger on the road, but it took a decade for serious studies to begin regarding the concern.

Authorities say the danger become even more ubiquitous with the explosion in the number of portable smart phones. In the last two decades, there has been exponential growth in the use of cell-phone and personal electronic devices. Globally, there are 5.3 billion mobile phone subscribers or 77 percent of the world population. In the United States, that percentage is even higher – it exceeds 100 percent.

At any given moment during business hours, it is estimated that 13.5 million drivers are on hand-held phones, according to a study released last week by the NHTSA.

“Some 3,092 roadway fatalities last year involved distracted drivers, although the actual number may be far higher,” a NHTSA representative said. “However, because distracted drivers sometimes die during the crash or rarely fess up to their actions, determining whether distraction was a factor in an accident can be difficult.”

Serious Distracted Driving Events

The NTSB announcement was accompanied by a series of events that had been studied in order to come to the conclusion. They specifically cited a 2010 Missouri accident where a driver of a pickup sent 11 texts in the 11 minutes leading up to a chain reaction accident where he rear-ended a semi truck, then was rear-ended by a school bus, which was rear-ended by another school bus following it. All of this resulted in two deaths and 38 personal injuries.

An experienced motorcoach driver was distracted in 2004 by his hands-free cell phone, causing him to stay in the far right lane, failing to move to the center lane, causing the bus he was driving to strick the underside of an arched stone bridge on the George Washington Parkway in Alexandria, Virginia. Eleven of the 27 high school students were injured.

In the 2008 collision of a commuter train with a freight train in Chatsworth, California, the commuter train engineer, who had a history of using his cell phone for personal communications while on duty, ran a red signal while texting. That train collided head on with a freight train – killing 25 and injuring dozens.

In 2009, two airline pilots were out of radio communication with air traffic control for more than an hour because they were distracted by their personal laptops. They overflew their destination by more than 100 miles, only realizing their error when a flight attendant inquired about preparing for arrival.

In Philadelphia in 2010, a barge being towed by a tugboat ran over an amphibious “duck” boat in the Delaware River, killing two Hungarian tourists. The tugboat mate failed to maintain a proper lookout due to repeated use of a cell-phone and laptop computer.

In 2010, near Munfordville, Kentucky, a truck-tractor in combination with a 53-foot-long trailer, left its lane, crossed the median and collided with a 15-passenger van. The truck driver failed to maintain control of his vehicle because he was distracted by use of his cell-phone. The accident resulted in 11 fatalities.

Distracted Driving Laws

Making a law national is a big step, particularly when there is such a heavy sentiment surrounding states rights in the US. As you can see by the graph, there is still an uphill battle on defining what is and is not distracted driving and appropriate behavior when driving a car.

Types of PDEs:

Cell Phones – These can be used with a hands free earpiece or onboard speaker system, however, some studies that having both hands on the wheel or having one side of your face unobstructed has caused on change in the level of distraction. This has caused some experts to recommend ending all calls in the vehicle while it’s moving.

Texting – This activity while driving has proven to be akin to being equal to being over the legal drinking limit. In fact, some studies have suggested that texting drivers could be equal to twice the legal limit in ability and attention.

Tablets – These may not belong when driving, yet people use them while driving anyway, just like reading the newspaper or a book while driving. Instead, they’re surfing the internet, even more distracting.

On Board Systems – The computer systems with touch screens in the newest cars coming out are specific to vehicles, but are not a ton different from a tablet or home computer. They are able to retrieve GPS information just as easily as take a call or retrieve email. This is equal to, or possibly more, detrimental to drivers.

All of these systems can cause serious distractions. Should they become illegal to use while the vehicle is moving? Some suggest that technology could be the answer to a technology problem. There is software on the market now that causes any phone going faster than 15 mph to be rendered useless. Will new technology be able to compensate for passing a law? Perhaps it will be easier to require.

Puget Sound Auto Accident Lawyer

If you or someone you know has suffered a serious personal injury after getting into a car accident with a distracted driver, then you need skilled legal council to represent you to assure that you get the compensation you deserve. Call the Seattle car accident lawyers at Phillips Law Firm for a free consultation.