Just Put Down the Phone and Drive: How Do We Convince Drivers of the Danger?

The newest statistics along with publicity of horrific traffic crashes involving cell phone use and driving has sparked numerous conversations and debates about how to deal with this issue. States have approached this problem in a variety of ways. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), in 2016 there were 14 states plus D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands that prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. And, while no state has a complete ban on cell phone use and driving for everyone, there are 37 states and D.C. that ban all cell phone use by novice or teen drivers, and 20 states and D.C. prohibit any cell phone use for school bus drivers. Florida currently has no ban on cell phone use except prohibiting all texting and driving. (IIHS has published a chart summarizing the 2016 laws in each state and territory – http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/cellular-phone-use-and-texting-while-driving-laws.aspx)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has indicated that texting while driving is six times more dangerous than drunk driving. One study concluded that 26% of all car crashes in the U.S. involve cell phone distraction with drivers taking their eyes off the road an average of 4.6 seconds when sending and receiving a text. If a driver is going 80 miles per hour on the interstate, this would be the equivalent of driving almost two football fields wearing a blindfold.

Laws against cell phone use while driving are, of course, intended to help prevent driver distraction and thus reduce the number of traffic accidents. However, critics accurately point out drivers are often distracted by other activities such as eating fast food and controlling children in the back seat. Additionally, today’s cell phones are more than just phones. They have music, podcasts, weather notifications, and navigation tools. Banning cell phone use completely will have the impact of denying drivers of the latest technologies intended to help with travel. So, other than enacting laws prohibiting certain cell phone activity, what other avenues are being pursued to persuade drivers to just put down the phone and drive?

1. Shaming: The NHTSA has started a social media campaign aimed at shaming drivers that admit to texting and driving. The agency, which has a Twitter following of 38,400 users and is responsible for ensuring the safety of all drivers on public highways, has been scolding people at #justdrive and giving stern advice – “Nobody is “good” at texting & driving…Do yourself and other drivers a favor and get off your phone. It’s not worth it.” http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2016/04/25/national-highway-traffic-safety-admin-shaming-texting-drivers-on-twitter/

2. Lawsuits: Just last month, a new class action was filed in California attempting to hold Apple accountable for automobile accidents caused by drivers being distracted by their iPhones. The lawsuit points out that Apple has had the capability for years of installing a safety feature on its devices that prevent users from texting while driving yet has not done so out of fear that doing so would affect its market share. Therefore, if this incentive is to be effective, it would appear that all phone companies would need to be required to employ the same feature.

3. Education: Driver safety education courses have almost universally incorporated information about the dangers of texting and driving. And, there’s evidence that this can have a

positive lasting influence on driver behavior. A graduate research project done in 2014 looked into whether a driver safety education class, focusing on the hazards of texting and driving, will improve the overall incidence of distracted driving. Although the researchers admit additional testing is needed, the results of their study indicated that educational efforts, along with public service announcements, will likely deter cell phone use while driving to some degree. For more details about this project and suggestions for future research in this area, see http://knowledge.e.southern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1020&context=gradnursing. With young drivers being particularly vulnerable to the risk of cell phone-related auto accidents due to their inexperience and sense of immortality, required safety courses seem to be a no-brainer.

No matter your thoughts or opinions on the effectiveness of state laws governing the use of cell phones while driving or the shaming campaign by the government, there is no denying that driver cell phone use is, at the very least, a growing source of driver distraction that contributes to accidents and injuries. If you have been injured in an auto accident due to the negligence of another, a distraction caused by the use of a cell phone may be to blame. Contact the attorneys of Syfrett, Dykes & Furr for a free consultation, (850) 795-4979.


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