Distracted Driving is the New Drunk Driving
Anyone involved in driving safety or personal injury litigation is now keenly aware of the dangers of distracted driving. Decades of serious/fatal collisions eventually persuaded the US to take the problem of drunk driving seriously, resulting in ramped up enforcement procedures and education programs starting in grade school highlighting the dangers. These efforts have had a noticeable reduction in alcohol-related crashes. The same is NOT true of distracted driving.
The new mantra is “Distracted Driving is the New Drunk Driving.” Distracted driving is both a national and local epidemic. Various Maryland agencies are involved in tracking the causes of traffic collisions. In 2020, the Montgomery County Police reported that 27,000 people are injured or killed annually on Maryland roads because of distracted driving crashes. Despite that horrible statistic, Marylanders continue to engage in unsafe distracted driving habits.
Mobile Phone Use While Driving
The concentration of media and communication options within cars seems to be the single largest force behind these dreadful statistics. Over the past 20 years mobile phones saturated the population, then evolved into Swiss Army Knives, performing multiple functions beyond basic phone calls. In addition to texting, they serve as cameras, navigation systems, social media centers, music and video libraries, restaurant research tools and so on, almost all of which require visual engagement by the user. Every time a driver looks at his/her phone, they have taken their eyes off the road - the very definition of distracted driving.
So how are new cars contributing to this epidemic? As far back as 2010, there were concerns by federal agencies that we were moving toward a time when “the internet creeps into car dashboards.” That time is now here. With the release of the early Teslas, which featured enormous nav displays, there has been a steady increase in the number of new vehicles with these oversize “Infotainment Screens.” These are large, bright, colorful and mounted right on the dash where they compete with the front windshield for the driver’s attention. With the advent of Apple Car Play and Android Auto, these screens now mirror many tempting apps from one’s phone onto the large dash display, all clamoring for the driver’s attention.
New Cars Come with Built-In Distractions
Undoubtedly, a large screen makes it easier for a driver to see data than it is when using a phone. But the problem comes when interacting with the screen. The advent of large glass screens that operate solely by touch has meant the end of knobs and buttons that were fixtures in vehicles for 50 years. Instead of leaning forward while watching the road to find and turn the familiar radio knob or heater with fingers, or press a simple preset button to change stations, a driver must now look at the smooth center dash to locate the radio icon, press the radio icon to activate a list showing various radio stations, then scroll up or down a list to find and then press the correct choice. And studies have shown this multi-step process on the smooth glass of a new dash display is prone to finger errors in a car that is bouncing along at highway speed. Mistakes or misses when pressing the glass inevitably lengthen the chore. Longer engagement with the display means one thing - more time with eyes off the road, i.e., distracted driving.
In 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued guidance that any task a driver might attempt on an infotainment screen should take no more than two seconds. It is obvious from the foregoing example that digital display systems in modern vehicles are NOT designed to meet this voluntary standard and actually make us all less safe.
If your new vehicle is equipped with one of these oversize built-in distractions, safe driving practice requires that you find ways to minimizing interaction with the display screen. This means learning and using voice commands as well as any duplicate buttons on the steering wheel to scroll or change volume. It may even mean actually pulling to a safe place before resetting the nav system or using other applications. We all must work to reduce distracted driving statistics.
If you have been the victim of distracted driving or any other type of crash, consider contacting the experienced attorneys at Sussman & Simcox to assist. The initial consultation is free.