The Most Frequently Asked Questions about Cell Phone Related Auto Accidents in Georgia
The explosion in the popularity of mobile phone devices, from Android phones to iPhones, has created a public safety risk that now rivals the danger posed by alcohol impaired drivers. According to a Pew Internet Project study, more than 9 in 10 adults in the U.S. own a mobile phone. Almost 6 in 10 Americans own some form of smart phone that is capable of performing a wide range of distracting functions that include checking social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, sending and receiving email, text messaging and searching the Internet according to Pew.
The growth in ownership of mobile phones suggests that the danger posed by drivers who are distracted by these devices is likely to get worse before it gets better. Because the distracted driving epidemic is a serious risk to drivers, passengers, bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians, our dedicated Atlanta distracted driving accident attorneys at Montlick and Associates have provided this blog series discussing key facts every motorist should know about the danger of cell phone-related car accidents. If you or a loved one has been injured by a driver distracted by a cell phone, we invite you to schedule a free consultation to discuss your legal rights and potential remedies. We also encourage you to review the following most frequently asked questions about these types of accidents:
Is the risk posed by cell phone use by drivers really that serious?
The comparison of drunk driving to distracted driving is very appropriate especially with the increasing percentage of the driving population that owns portable communication devices like smart phones, offering a multitude of applications and uses. A few statistics provide a better sense of the magnitude of the risk:
• Approximately 2.6 million accidents per year are caused by talking or texting on a cell phone (National Safety Council).
• During a recent 12-month period, distracted driving claimed the lives of 5,474 people and caused injury to another 448,000. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).
• The federal government has estimated that approximately eighty percent of accidents and sixteen percent of highway fatalities are the result of distracted driving. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).
• Talking on a cell phone reduces a motorist's attention while driving by 37 percent. (National Safety Council).
• Drivers engaged in text messaging face a risk of being involved in a collision that is 23 times greater than drivers who are not texting.
Have the existing laws prohibiting cell phone use been effective at discouraging drivers from using cell phones while driving?
A report put together by a range of traffic safety officials entitled "Distracted Driving: What Research Shows and What States Can Do" concluded that there was "no solid evidence that any ban is effective in reducing crashes, injuries or fatalities." According to an ABC New Report, two-thirds of all drivers admit to using a cell phone to text and talk while driving a motor vehicle.
Why have cell phone driving restrictions and bans had limited effectiveness?
This is a question that is widely debated, but the cause may be related to challenges with enforcing distracted driving laws. While radar can detect a speeding driver or police may observe an alcohol impaired driver drifting into an adjacent lane, cell phone use may not be as easy to recognize unless the driver makes a serious driving error in the officer's presence or the driver is involved in a collision. Many cell phone users who do a significant amount of text messaging often operate their phone out of sight of passing cars.
Even if the officer does pull over a driver that is violating a cell phone ban, there may be no way to confirm that the phone was being used to talk or text without a subsequent subpoena of cell phone records. While mobile phones may save call logs and text messages, a driver can quickly clear these logs. The bottom line is that without a substantial risk of detection, drivers may conclude that the convenience of using a cell phone outweighs the potential risk of a traffic citation.
The relatively mild consequences associated with violation of Georgia's texting and driving ban may also pose a potential explanation as to why bans have fallen short of the goal of making roads safer. DUI is a misdemeanor (or felony under some circumstances) so it results in a criminal record, potential incarceration in county jail or state prison and costs that typically amount to thousands of dollars. By comparison, the penalty for text messaging while driving in Georgia is a paltry $150 fine and a single point on one's driving record. The low risk of receiving a citation combined with the relatively trivial penalties undercut the deterrent impact of laws that ban or restrict cell phone usage.
The challenges in enforcing the law have been confirmed by Georgia law enforcement officials. An officer with the Georgia State Patrol speaking to a reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) suggested that the enforcement problem might be getting worse. "We're having the same obstacles we've had since the law came into effect. They're looking for us now because it's against the law, and they don't do it while we're in a car sitting next to them." The AJC article reported that only eleven citations per month have been issued for texting and driving throughout the entire state since the texting ban went into effect.
Does the decision to use a Bluetooth hands-free device make operation of a cell phone while driving safer?
A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that hands-free technology that makes it easier to talk and text on a cell phone causes dangerous mental distractions, which may explain why hands-free cell phone restrictions have not generally reduced the number of cell phone-related car accidents. According to the results of the study, talking or texting impairs mental focus on driving tasks, which includes but is not limited to the following:
• Less consistent scanning of the road
• Poorer response to visual cues of potential collisions
• Slower reaction and braking times
• Compromised and slower brain function
The AAA Foundation study confirms earlier studies that suggest limiting drivers to hands-free use of a cell phone does not make the roadways safer. Research conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute, for example, compared accident rates in states that had instituted hands-free laws to states without such a restriction. The states that imposed a hands-free requirement did not reduce their accident rates nor did the restrictions result in fewer accidents than in states with no such restriction. The subsequent AAA Foundation findings essentially explain this anomaly; the results suggests that it may be the mental distraction associated with carrying on a cell phone conversation more than the physical manipulation of the phone that constitutes the biggest factor in cell phone-related accidents.
Does text messaging constitute a greater risk of causing a car accident than talking on a cell phone?
A behind the wheel test conducted by Car and Driver magazine vividly illustrated why text and driving is so dangerous that many states like Georgia have completely banned the practice. The study measured brake response time between drivers who were sober and not engaged in text messaging activity and compared this response time to driver who were alcohol impaired, as well as drivers who were engaged in text messaging. The results are both enlightening and disturbing:
• Braking time for sober non-texting driver: 0.54 seconds
• Braking time for alcohol impaired driver: four additional feet
• Braking time for driver reading a text: 36 additional feet
• Braking time for driver sending a text: 70 additional feet
Many people who would never consider driving while impaired by alcohol text while driving because the activity does not elicit the same sense of moral outrage. Nonetheless, the risk posed to other vehicle occupants, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians appears to be at least as serious when drivers operate a motor vehicle while distracted by text messaging.
Do voice activated systems that are being installed in new vehicles lower the probability of a collision when using the technology to talk or text?
Ironically, voice activated technology now being installed in vehicles to permit hands-free email and text activity may actually increase the risk of being involved in a collision. A study conducted by AAA in conjunction with the University of Utah analyzed driving behavior, eye movement and brainwave activity and concluded that speech-to-text systems constituted a greater distraction than anything else the researchers tested according to an ABC report. "Your brain is so overloaded with these talk-to-text tasks or talking on a cell phone that you have very little residual capability to attend to the roadway," explained one of the University of Utah researchers.
What is needed to prevent motor vehicle accidents involving distracting portable electronic communications devices like mobile phones?
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has called on states to enact a comprehensive ban on the use of portable electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle. Although the political optics of this type of ban may be appealing, the question left unanswered is why this strategy would succeed given the general lack of effectiveness of current state laws that ban cell phone use while driving.
One response is that targeting all uses and types of devices would ease the burden on law enforcement authorities of proving that a driver observed using a cell phone was engaged in texting or talking. There is no sound reason to think checking one's Facebook status or checking email on a cell phone is any safer than texting or talking on a cell phone, which might justify a global ban. However, critics of this approach worry this will limit the ability to use mobile phones for purposes like GPS navigation.
The real key to deterring use of mobile phones, iPads, tablet computers, Kindles and other handheld electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle might be a wider awareness of the magnitude of the risk associated with operating portable electronic devices while driving. Our Atlanta personal injury attorneys at Montlick and Associates are committed to the goal of raising public awareness of the danger posed by distracted drivers so we have launched public service campaigns regarding this issue in an effort to make Georgia motorists safer. These public service campaigns include our Don't Text and Drive program. Our goal is to promote widespread recognition that texting and driving and other forms of distracted driving are like DUI in that both are unacceptable risks. A national prohibition on the use of handheld electronic communication devices might also raise public awareness regarding the seriousness of the risk posed by this type of driving conduct.
In terms of changing attitudes toward the acceptability to using an iPhone, Android phone or other cellular phone while driving, a number of studies have shown drivers often still engage in distracted driving. A NOPUS poll, which is conducted annually by the National Center for Statistics revealed that at any moment in time there are approximately 660,000 drivers manipulating portable electronic devices. This number has been rising annually since the study was conducted in 2010 according to the official distracted driving website for the federal government.
Is there anything parents can do to lower the probability that their teenager will be involved in a distracted driving accident?
Parents can take a number of steps to discourage their kids from texting and driving:
• Discuss the severity of the danger or develop a contract with your kids that bans cell phone use as a condition of driving
• Modeling appropriate driving behavior by abstaining from cell phone use when transporting kids in a car
• Monitoring kids cell phone usage to determine if the phone is being used during times that your kids are driving
• Install applications that disable a cell phone when driving or notify parents if a cell phone is turned on when someone is driving
• Encourage your teens not to ride with friends that texts and drive
One of the most important of these methods of discouraging your teen driver from using a cell phone when driving is for parents never to do so. Many of our Atlanta personal injury attorneys are parents of teenagers and recognize that sometimes it may feel like teens do not pay attention to the warnings and behavior of parents. However, studies have shown that the advice and driving behavior of parents may be the single most significant impact on teen driving conduct. Further, a survey by the Allstate Foundation revealed that 99 percent of parents believe that teens are influenced by the driving behavior of their parents.
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