Distracted driving due to cellphone use is reaching troubling levels, despite more states banning texting by drivers, Colorado among them. According to the latest figures from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2014, 32,675 Americans died in traffic crashes, and in 94 percent of these crashes, the driver was the cause of the crash. Mark Rosekind, NHSTA Administrator, says distracted driving is playing an increasing role in these accidents. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) reports that distracted driving kills more than 3,000 people and injures over 430,000 people each year, and shows no sign of improvement.
“For decades, USDOT has been driving safety improvements on our roads, and those efforts have resulted in a steady decline in highway deaths,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “But the apparent increase in 2015 is a signal that we need to do more.”
This has led to a push to do for distracted driving what public advocates successfully did for drunk driving starting in the late 1980s. Candace Lightner, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), helped create a new group this year, Partnership for Distraction-Free Driving, which is circulating a petition to pressure social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to discourage multitasking by drivers, in the same way that MADD pushed beer and liquor companies to discourage drunk driving. Their campaign urges social media companies to implement a cellphone warning screen that pops-up if a driver attempts to open one of their apps while driving. AT&T already offers their customers the DriveMode app, which activates automatically when the phone moves faster than 15 miles-per-hour, silencing incoming text message alerts and sending out automatic text responses.
A new proposal to combat the problem came from New York lawmakers this year who are pushing legislation to empower police officers to use a roadside test called a “Textalyzer”, which would be the digital equivalent of a Breathalyzer used for drunk driving. How would it work? An officer arriving at the scene of an accident could ask for the cellphones of any drivers involved in the crash and use the Textalyzer to tap into the phone’s operating system to check for recent activity. According to a recent New York Times article, “The technology could determine whether a driver had used the phone to text, email or do anything else that is forbidden under New York’s hands-free driving laws, which prohibit drivers from holding phones to their ear. Failure to hand over a phone could lead to the suspension of a driver’s license, similar to the consequences for refusing a Breathalyzer.”
While any proposed legislation empowering the use of a Textalyzer, whether in Colorado or other states, may run up against privacy laws, many believe the threat of losing a driver’s license is a necessary step to curtail cellphone-related accidents. “We need something on the books where people’s behavior can change,” says Félix W. Ortiz, the New York legislator sponsoring the bipartisan Textalyzer bill. “If the Textalyzer bill becomes law, people are going to be more afraid to put their hands on the cellphone.” MADD’s Lightner echoes this sentiment, saying that distracted driving “is not being treated as seriously as drunk driving, and it needs to be.”
If a distracted driver injured you or someone you love in an accident, contact a knowledgeable Colorado personal injury lawyer who can evaluate your case and help get you the compensation you deserve.