In our experience, the majority of motor vehicle crashes in which we are retained to help injured victims involve some form of distracted driving. Distractions divert drivers’ attention from the roadway, and substantially increases the risk of crash-related injury — indeed, the research suggests distracted driving is as dangerous (if not more dangerous) than driving while intoxicated. Fortunately, because texting or talking on a cellphone is one of the most common and dangerous forms of distracted driving, lawmakers have begun to ban it.
As far back as the mid-2000s, Illinois lawmakers began enacting distracted driving regulations. In 2013, the legislature brought these laws together under a statewide ban according to which drivers could use their phones but only if they did so hands-free. Breaking the law resulted in a $75 fine for first-time offenders with higher fines and moving violations for repeaters.
Starting July 1, 2019, that ban will be modified so a first-time offense will also be considered a moving violation. In other words, an offender will likely be hit with higher insurance premiums right away, and the incident will be listed on their driving record. Under the 2013 law, that didn’t happen until the second offense.
The ban excludes GPS systems and other devices that are “physically or electronically integrated into the motor vehicle”, but that could change in the future. These feature-rich screens often act like smartphones and could someday be found to be equally as distracting.
What About Commercial Drivers?
Just as the law allows non-commercial drivers to use in-dash devices, it permits truckers, bus drivers and other commercial operators to read texts so long as those messages are displayed on a permanently installed device. But it does ban cell phones unless they’re used hands-free.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration acted along similar lines in 2010 when they got together to ban commercial drivers from using hand-held cell phones while operating their vehicles. Violations result in fines of up to $2,750 and suspension for repeat offenses.
Importantly, commercial and non-commercial drivers who drive a vehicle in such a manner that constitutes “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property” — which we believe would include texting while driving or other distracted driving — and as a result causes “great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement of another” is guilty of “Aggravated Reckless Driving”, a Class 4 Felony. 625 ILCS 5/11-503.
Indeed, Passen & Powell currently represents a family severely injured in a rear-end crash caused by a commercial tractor-trailer driver who was using his personal hand-held device at the time of the crash, and as a result of his distracted driving, failed to slow down or stop for traffic in a construction work zone on the interstate highway, resulting in the catastrophic crash. In addition to our civil lawsuit on behalf of the family against the truck driver and transportation company, the truck driver is being investigated for Felony Aggravated Reckless Driving.
Why All The Fuss?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,450 Americans were killed by distracted drivers in 2016. In 2015, nearly 400,000 were injured. Those injuries included traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, paralysis, burns, and fractures. That’s time away from work and loved ones, a lengthy rehabilitation, or worse.
And it’s darkest during the day. Per the NHTSA, close to 500,000 Americans talk or text while driving during daylight hours. Analytics platform Zendrive paints an even bleaker picture. According to their research, there are nearly 70 million distracted drivers on US roads every day. 60% of drivers use their cellphones while driving at least once daily, and, echoing the NHTSA’s findings, rates jump to 72% between the hours of 10am and 5pm.
If those numbers are right, more than half of US drivers are cruising along with one eye on a touchscreen. That’s enormous potential for fatal accidents or the sort of life-altering injuries mentioned above.
Can Tech Mitigate The Danger?
In 2013, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute ran a distracted driving study. Each participant was asked to drive a controlled course – once without a cellphone, twice while using voice-to-text apps, and once while texting by hand. The drivers were timed for how long it took them to respond to a light that switched on randomly.
Compared to the non-phone drivers, the texters took twice as long as to respond to the light. What’s more interesting is that there was little difference between the texting groups. The voice-to-text drivers were just as slow as the manual texters. According to the institute, the hands-free tech didn’t help because the voice-to-text drivers felt the need to check their apps’ accuracy.
But even if voice-to-text improves and messages are 100% accurate, there would still be distracted driving. According to the University of Sussex in England, every time you speak or write, your brain visualizes what you’re talking about. This imaginary imaging uses up processing power that you should be using to visualize reality – the car in front of you, the signaling bicyclist, or the child chasing a ball. To make matters worse, emotions that stem from conversations could result in faster driving, which only shrinks the margin of error.
As the research progresses, states may end up banning voice-to text apps, in-dash devices, and other “smart” communication technology. For now, it’s just cell phones, but that’s a good first step towards lessening the number of distracted driving-related motor vehicle crashes causing death or catastrophic injury.
For a Free Consultation with one of Passen & Powell’s top-rated personal injury lawyers, call us at 312-527-4500.