Articles Posted in Distracted Driving

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Self-driving car.jpgWe’ve all heard about Google’s research into self-driving cars. Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is getting into the mix, believing that 80% of automobile accidents can be prevented if vehicles are given the ability to communicate with each other (see article, Detroit Free Press).

This “vehicle-to-vehicle” communication and related technologies can be used to implement crash-warning systems, and lane departure alerts. According to the NHTSA’s Administrator:

Our research shows that these technologies could help prevent a majority of the collisions that typically occur in the real world, such as rear-end collisions, intersection crashes, or collisions while switching lanes.

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WC poster.jpgIf you are injured while seeking medical treatment that is required in order for you to go back to work, when the original injury was a Maryland workers’ comp injury, is the second injury a workers’ compensation claim, as well?

The Court of Special Appeals answered that question no. Here’s what happened in Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority v. Jan Williams, just decided last week.

The claimant injured his back and left knee while on-the-job on April 15, 2008. A year later, he was attending a specialized type of physical therapy known as work hardening. He had a session, and went to his truck during the lunch break. After the lunch break, he got out of his truck and walked back to his therapy. While in the parking lot, another driver backed up into him.

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distracted driving accident attorney.jpgU.S. Secretary Ray LaHood is continuing his crusade against cell phones and upping the ante, proposing a nationwide ban talking, texting and e-mailing while driving. His latest forum (see the news story by Reuters) was a distracted driving summit in Texas last week. His main argument centers around the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s estimate of 3,000 fatal traffic accidents in 2011, caused by distracted driving. The NHTSA also states that cell phone use delays reactions just as much as a BAC of 0.08.

According to LaHood:

It used to be that if an officer pulled you over for drunk driving, he would pat you on the back, maybe call you a cab or take you home, but he wouldn’t arrest you. Now that has changed, and the same enforcement can work for people who talk on cell phones while driving.

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distracted driving accident attorney.jpgThough it is aimed primarily at parents of new drivers, many cell phone carriers and other services are offering technological solutions to distracted driving. The basic premise is that cell phones can be automatically deactivated, or some functions can be automatically deactivated, when the phones internal GPS system detects the device moving at a specified rate of speed.

Some of the programs automatically route incoming calls to voicemail, and send automatic replies to text messages. Most of the teenage programs can be set to send notifications to parents when the features are disabled

Some products, like FleetSafer, are designed for adults and also eliminate the ability to send and receive e-mails, and use internet browsers, while behind the wheel. T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T all have products that work on some of their phones.

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Distracted Driving Lawsuits.jpgCalifornia has a new law on cell phones. There, hand-held cell phone use was banned for drivers in July, 2008. According to data kept by the University of California, Berkeley, overall traffic deaths decreased by 22%, and hand-held driver cell-phone related deaths went down by 47%.

Certainly, it can’t all be related to the law, but some of these saved lives are because of the public perception that driving while using a cell phone is just dangerous. But, California offers a big stick–in 2011, there were 460,487 Californian convictions for hand-held cell phone use. The data and the California press release are visible here.

In Maryland, it is illegal to talk on a cell phone (unless it is hands-free), and to text or e-mail from a cell phone while driving. These are all primary offenses, and a police officer can give a citation to any driver who engages in this activity without evidence of other offenses. It will be interesting to track the Maryland conviction statistics, to see how aggressive our police officers are. Anecdotally, it doesn’t take long to see someone driving down the road, talking on a cell phone without the hands-free device.

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Backup Camera.jpgI am fortunate that I’ve never had to litigate a case involving a driver who backed up into a child or a person. Statistically, about 16,000 of these accidents happen every year, with about 300 deaths. The drivers are most often (70%) the parents or family members of children who are injured.

There have been proposals since at least 2008 to require all cars to feature backup cameras. Many thought the rule on rear visibility standards was going to pass this year, but it has been delayed once again. The automobile wants lawmakers to consider other alternatives.

One proponent likens backup cameras to airbags–prevailing wisdom was that the public didn’t want them, but they did. Now, we accept that the cost of an airbag is built into the car, and if it increases the price a bit, that’s the price for safety. Backup cameras could increase the costs of cars by $200.

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Semi Tractor Trailer.jpgAs of January 3, interstate truck and bus drivers (those driving between states) are forbidden from using hand-held cell phones while operating their trucks. The enforcement angle isn’t as strong as it could be–drivers violating the rule are fined up to $2,750 per offense, and their truck-driving privileges can be revoked for multiple offenses. Employers may be fined up to $11,000. If we were really serious about this, there shouldn’t be a warning period. One strike and you’re out.

Truckers still have the option of various hands-free devices, including bluetooth or speakerphones.

It’s hard to say where all this distracted driving/cell phone publicity is going to take us by the end of 2012. There are some groups that want to eliminate all cell phone use in all vehicles–whether hands-on or hands-free. If we were honest with ourselves, we would all probably admit that hands-free isn’t much better than hands-on. On the other hand, drivers and the trucking industry are pushing back hard, arguing that this is an assault on our personal freedoms.

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Star Trek Communications Panel.jpgIn light of all the concern about distracted driving being the new drunken driving (as if it were something fashionable, like “40 is the new 30”), we’ve been hit on both sides. On one hand, the government is proposing to take away our cellphones while we are in the car–this includes stop lights, this includes hands-free devices like bluetooth. On the other hand, we have emerging technologies becoming standard on new cars that have their own hands-free devices that automatically connect with our cell phones.

Ford is rolling out MyFord Touch (developed in conjunction with Microsoft) on more and more of its vehicles. It has many functions, including a hands-free calling feature and for sending/receiving text messages via voice, but it allows voice commands to control many car systems, for example, the climate. It’s a little Star Trek for our own private shuttlepods (Majel Barrett Roddenberry’s voice not included).

The warning on Ford’s website states:

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