As if we didn’t already have enough distractions, on-board GPS systems, portable DVD players, iPods, and Smartphones have created more driving distractions than ever before. And, it’s certainly not atypical for a vehicle simultaneously to have ringing phones, cartoons blaring from the backseat, a GPS incessantly yelping orders out, and fast-food fries flying around like ninja weapons.
Even though elements like the above have been proven to make it nearly impossible for a driver to devote their full attention to the road at all times, many drivers still think they’re perfectly safe drivers. Here’s a simple yes-or-no quiz:
- So long as I’m not watching, it’s okay for passengers to watch a movie on the vehicle’s in-dash video screen. No. Not only do most front seat, in-dash video screens generally have a feature that prevents it from showing entertainment or business video when the car is moving, but it would also be completely unsafe to do so since it would inevitably catch the driver’s peripheral vision and distract them. Furthermore, many state laws regulate the placement and use of on-board video screens.
- Have there been any criminal cases alleging electronic devices were the causative factor in vehicle accidents? Yes. One example would be a 2004 case that took place in Alaska. The driver was allegedly watching something on his DVD player when he struck another vehicle and killed two people. Although the driver claimed he was only adjusting his CD player, he was charged with second-degree murder on the premise that he engaged in conduct showing an indifference to human life.
- In-dash monitors for rear-view camera and navigation purposes can be installed in the front seat. Yes and no. If the device has the feature that prevents it from showing entertainment and business video, then it can be installed and used in the vehicle’s front seat.
- Is it okay to drive as you eat or drink? No. Although driving as you drink coffee or eat a granola bar usually isn’t as distracting as watching a movie or text messaging is, it’s still an unsafe driving practice. The bottom line is that doing and thinking about anything aside from driving can distract you from the road and lead you to look away, remove your hands from the steering wheel, or become mentally preoccupied.
- Does driver distraction cause very many accidents? Yes. More than 6 million crashes, 3 million crash-related injuries, and 42,000 crash-related deaths occur each year in the U.S., of which driver distraction accounts for 1.2 million to 1.8 million, or roughly 20%-30%.
- Do federal laws govern the use of mobile devices like a GPS unit in moving vehicles? No. In some states, there are state laws that prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones in moving vehicles, but there aren’t any federal laws regulating the use of mobile devices in moving vehicles.
- Can the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulate cell phone usage in moving vehicles? No. Cell phone laws are enacted at the state or local levels. However, the NHTSA is able to regulate the use of motor vehicle equipment and devices.
- Are lawmakers concerned with vehicle crashes related to driver distraction? Yes. During the past decade, several states have already passed or presented legislation related to driver distraction and vehicle crashes, and the number of states looking into such laws grows every day.
- Do any states totally ban hand-held cell phone use while driving? Yes. Nine states, including California, Connecticut, Washington, New York, New Jersey, and Utah, prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Additionally, 30 states and the District of Columbia ban novice drivers from using both hands-free and hand-held cell phones.
- Can your employer be held liable if you’re using a cell phone and crash into someone or something? Yes. Your employer can be held liable in a court of law. Under respondeat superior, an employer can be held liable in civil court for employee acts committed within the course of employment.
How many did you answer correctly? Maybe you’ve learned a few new facts, or maybe you gained a new respect for what you already knew. Either way, it’s time to put down the food, turn off that cell phone, and start keeping your mind and body focused on the road ahead of you.