Distracted Driving is an App-idemic
A new year means that new laws take effect. One big change out West will likely become commonplace in many states as the nation finds ways to combat the dangers of distracted driving due to smartphone use. As of January 1, drivers in California are now prohibited from “holding and operating” mobile phones. Phones that are mounted on the windshield or dashboard can be used for functions that require only “the motion of a single swipe or tap of the driver’s finger.” Washington State is considering similar legislation tentatively called the “Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act,” while a tougher law has been proposed in Oregon that penalizes distracted driving as harshly as drunk driving. Many current laws were passed at a time when mobile phones were less sophisticated and less popular. Forbidding drivers from using the devices for calls or texting unless they were hands-free no longer addresses the enormity of the problem. In 2015, there were 3,477 people killed and an additional 391,000 people injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. Human brains can only do so much at one time, and switching between complex tasks slows reaction time. That’s one of the reasons that using apps while driving is so dangerous. One study found that 34 percent of teen motorists take their eyes off the road when they get app notifications. The most popular app? Snapchat, which allows pictures and videos to self-destruct a few seconds after being sent. There were several high-profile accidents in 2016 that implicated Snapchat. In March, a University of California Santa Cruz student was allegedly so distracted behind the wheel while Snapchatting that she crossed into oncoming traffic and caused a double fatal crash. In April, a Georgia teenager was accused of causing a near-fatal wreck at over 100 miles per hour while using Snapchat’s speed filter, which allows users to take a selfie stamped with how fast they were going at the time. In October, a Snapchat video emerged showing a 22-year-old Florida driver going 115 m.p.h. moments before his car caused a fiery crash that killed five people. Last year also saw accidents involving Facebook Live, which allows live-streaming of events. The app is thought to have played a role in a Pennsylvania wreck that killed a driver and her passenger. A 20-year-old in Rhode Island who live-streamed himself weaving in and out of traffic at speeds of up to 115 m.p.h., ultimately crashed into a dump truck and road barrier. Apple’s FaceTime app is the subject of a current lawsuit filed by the family of a five-year-old girl killed in a car crash who allege that Apple “had a duty to warn motorists against using the app and that it could have used patented technology to prohibit drivers from utilizing the app.” On a similar note, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has begun asking car and phone manufacturers to develop complementary technology that can lock drivers out of using most apps when they are behind the wheel and make in-vehicle systems easy to pair with smartphones. While these guidelines are voluntary, they highlight the need to reduce accidents caused by phone-distracted drivers.