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Distracted Driving – Are apps to blame?

The New York Times recently reported that 2015 marked the largest spike in traffic related fatalities in four decades. Sadly, the numbers so far this year are even worse. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the first six months of 2016, highway deaths jumped 10.4 percent, to 17, 775, from the comparable period of 2015.

After four decades of a steady decline in traffic related fatalities, the recent increase can be directly linked to the increased use of electronic devices while driving. The navigation app, Waze, rewards drivers with points when they report traffic jam and accidents. We previously blogged about the game, Pokemon Go, and how users can search for virtual creatures on the roadways. The photo messaging app, Snapchat, allows users to post photos that record the speed of the vehicle they are operating. Using these apps while driving is not only dangerous, but can be deadly. On October 26, 2016, a collision near Tampa killed five people. The Florida Highway Patrol learned that a passenger in one of the cars involved recorded a Snapchat video showing her vehicle traveling 115 m.p.h. just before the collision.

Alarmed by spike in traffic related fatalities, the Department of Transportation in October outlined a plan to work with the National Safety Council and other advocacy groups to devise a “Road to Zero” strategy, with the ambitious goal of eliminating roadway fatalities within 30 years. Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx, said that the plan may include pushing all states to tighten and enforce laws requiring the use of seatbelts in cars and helmet on motorcycles, while cracking down on distracted or drunken driving.

A second, related effort would focus on setting longer-term goals and speeding the introduction of autonomous driving technologies that have the potential to prevent crashes by removing distracted humans from the driving equation. Most new vehicles sold today have software that enable drivers to concentrate on driving even while interacting with their smartphones.

An iPhone app, CarPlay, allows users to transform Siri into a virtual assistant to answer phone calls, dictate texts, and control apps like Spotify and Pandora. CarPlay presents a simplified menu on the car’s in dash display to reduce driver distraction and turn off the phone’s screen, eliminating the temptation to use the device itself. However, former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah Hersman, stated that it was not clear how much those various technologies reduced distraction – or, instead, encouraged drivers to use even more function on their phones while driving.

If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a collision as a result of a distracted driver, call Beltz & Beltz at 727-201-9944 or 813-559-9090, and speak with one of our lawyers to discuss your case. The call is always free.

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