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Are Automakers Feeding Our Distracted Driving Addiction?

It’s well-known that distracted driving is one of the most frequent causes of car accidents in New York City and across our country. While drivers and lawmakers acknowledge the problem, a new study suggests that car makers may be contributing to distracted driving accidents rather than trying to minimize driver distractions.

Whenever drivers turn to talk to passengers or calm a child, eat, talk on a phone, daydream or do anything that takes their attention off the road, they pose an increased risk to themselves and others sharing the roadway.

Drivers who take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds double their risk of a crash. Distracted driving accidents are responsible for more than 390,000 injuries and 3,500 deaths every year, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says.

New York, Other States Act to Combat Distracted Driving

State lawmakers across the country have recognized the problem of distracted driving. Forty-seven states have banned texting while driving, 16 prohibit use of hand-held cell phones while driving, and 38 states disallow all cell phone use by novice drivers.

New York prohibits texting while driving by any driver. New York’s texting-while-driving ban is a primary enforcement law, meaning an officer may cite a driver without any other traffic offense taking place.

You may wonder why people drive while distracted when texting while driving is now illegal in most states.

The AAA Foundation said in its 2017 report about America’s “traffic safety culture” that most drivers believe that using a cellphone to send text messages or emails while driving is a threat to their safety. A large majority (87.6 percent) support laws against reading, typing or sending a text message or email while driving, and 73.4 percent support laws against using a hand-held cellphone.

However, in the 30 days prior to the AAA survey:

  • 5 percent of drivers said they had talked on a hands-free cellphone
  • 1 percent talked on a hand-held cellphone
  • 9 percent read a text message or email while driving
  • 6 percent typed or sent a text message or email while driving.

The results of the AAA survey continue to show an attitude among motorists of “do as I say and not as I do,” the Foundation says.

The problem apparently is that people think that focusing all their attention on driving is a poor use of time. Our culture of multi-tasking may be the culprit.

A State Farm Insurance survey released in 2017 found an overwhelming portion of drivers believe texting while driving is distracting (95 percent), as is talking on a hand-held cell phone (82 percent).

But, the State Farm survey respondents said they used smartphones while driving despite the distraction and despite thinking it increases the likelihood of a crash.

When asked why, they provided reasons such as improved efficiency, needing to stay in touch, habit, searching for information on the internet, and seeing something they want to share, State Farm says.

Do New Auto Features Cause Driving Distraction?

A study published in June by the AAA Foundation suggests automakers are contributing to distracted driving.

In-vehicle information systems, or “infotainment” systems, in new cars “may distract motorists from driving by diverting their eyes and attention from the road and hands from the steering wheel,” the study says.

The explosion of technology in motor vehicles in the last few years has led to “hundreds of buttons, touch screens, gesture controls, heads-up displays (and) voice commands” for drivers to be distracted by, David Strayer, the author of the study, told the Washington Post.

“Our concern is that in many cases the driver will assume that if it’s put in the vehicle, and it’s enabled to be used while the vehicle’s in motion, then it must be safe,” Strayer said. “That’s just simply not true.”

For the study, the AAA Foundation compared built-in vehicle infotainment systems designed by automakers with Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto, aftermarket apps that connect mobile devices to a vehicle’s display screens and controls. For most tasks, both CarPlay and Android Auto were less demanding of a driver’s time and attention than built-in systems.

Drivers were able to get their eyes back on the road with the two aftermarket devices five seconds faster when making a call and 15 seconds faster than when programming the navigation system, Strayer said.

Using such systems while driving still represents a safety hazard, but the study’s results demonstrate that car makers can provide systems that are safer, according to the AAA.

“Google and Apple are proving that it is possible to reduce the level of demand in-vehicle infotainment technology places on drivers,” Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation, said in a news release accompanying the study. “While improvements are necessary before any of the systems can be considered safe to use while driving, this research shows that smartphone-based software has the potential to offer a simpler, more familiar design that is less confusing to drivers, and therefore less demanding.”

While today’s aftermarket devices may be safer than original auto features, Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy, told the Post they don’t go far enough. Any such product should meet the federal government recommendation that they lock out certain actions while the car is moving, like the ability to program navigation or to send text messages.

“Neither Apple CarPlay or Android Auto or any of the systems provided by vehicle manufacturers meet our requirement of being no more demanding than listening to the radio,” Nelson said.

We’re Ready to Help After a Distracted Driving Accident

At David Resnick & Associates, our professional legal team takes on personal injury cases involving distracted driving. If you were injured in a New York car crash caused by a distracted driver, our car accident lawyers can explain your legal options to you in plain language, and seek full compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages and your pain and suffering related to the accident.

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