Carter Craig, Attorneys at Law

NHTSA seeks to curb distracted driving

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Traffic accident fatalities in Virginia and around the country are on the rise after years of improving road safety, and distracted driving crashes are a particular concern for federal agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency has released the second phase of its guidelines to reduce the number of distracted driving accidents, and they include a call to cellphone manufacturers to include features in their devices that would restrict their functionality while a vehicle is in motion.

The NHTSA concedes that there is no current way for a cellphone to determine whether or not its owner is a vehicle passenger or driver, and it accepts that these safety features will be used on a voluntary basis should they be developed. The federal agency wants companies like Motorola, Apple and Samsung to include a feature that would allow phones to be paired with vehicle electronics systems. It is also asking manufacturers to include a driver mode for use in situations where pairing is not possible.

The screen of a paired phone would only display emergency notifications, and phones would no longer be capable of text messaging or photo or video viewing while in driver mode. GPS and mapping functions would be unaffected. The public has until Feb. 3 to submit comments about the proposals, and full implementation could be a year or more away should the guidelines go into effect. NHTSA figures indicate that about 10 percent of the 35,092 people who lost their lives on America's roads in 2015 were killed in a distracted driving accident, and some of the fatalities were caused by negligent truck drivers.

Law enforcement officers and accident reconstruction experts are generally able to identify factors such as intoxication or mechanical failure as the cause of a crash, but establishing that a driver was distracted can be more challenging. Experienced personal injury attorneys may look for electronic evidence of distraction when pursuing civil remedies on behalf of truck accident victims. Attorneys may study cellphone records or the time stamps on social media posts to establish that the truck driver was distracted at the time of the collision.

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