Fighting Fatal Distracted Driving Accidents in Indiana and Illinois: Law and Technology


Fighting Fatal Distracted Driving Accidents in Indiana and Illinois: Law and Technology

Distractions that cause accidents? These days, it’s usually a smart phone that’s to blame. Distracted driving is the most common example (although there are others like deadwalking).

Usually people think of drivers who are driving while distracted by their phones. It’s well known that (1) texting while driving and (2) chatting on the phone while driving are both dangers that cause serious and fatal motor vehicle accidents.

More And More, People Are Dying In Crashes Caused By Distraction.

Distracted driving is a growing public safety concern here in Indiana and Illinois, as well as the rest of the country. Why is it so dangerous? The Indiana Department of Labor explains it this way: by using your phone to talk or to text, you are distracted from the task of driving in three ways:

  • In your thinking: cognitive distraction takes your mind off the road.
  • In what you’re seeing: visual distraction takes your eyes off the road.
  • In the use of your hands: manual distraction takes your hands off the wheel.

The numbers are being tallied now regarding traffic fatalities last year.   Already, we know that Illinois had more fatal traffic accidents and motor vehicle accident fatalities last year than the state had recorded since 2008. Illinois State Police are explaining this jump in fatal car crashes by four causes:

(1) speeding,
(2) people failing to wear their seat belts,
(3) drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs (driving impaired); and
(4) distracted driving.

New Laws Are Being Proposed In Indiana.

Right now, Illinois and Indiana have laws on the books that outlaw drivers from using their phone – sometimes. However, neither state has the strongest of distracted driving laws right now. For instance, Indiana does ban all drivers from texting while driving but there is not a state-wide ban for all drivers to use hand-held cell phones in their vehicles. (Illinois does have a state-wide hand-held ban of drivers using cell phones.)

Of course, having the laws on the books doesn’t mean that drivers will obey them. Most of us know people who ignore the distracted driving laws, thinking that they won’t get caught and they have enough control over their vehicle that they won’t become a statistic.

What is the answer here?  It may be a combination of new laws, greater police enforcement of those laws, and newer technologies that combine to make the roads of Indiana and Illinois safer from fatal distracted driving accidents.

Indiana State Senator Pete Miller, for example, is working to pass stricter distracted driving laws here in Indiana. His proposed law would ban drivers from being able to surf the web on their phones while driving, something that is not covered in the current Indiana distracted driving law.

Technology Responses: Devices and Apps

Meanwhile, new inventions and new apps are being developed to combat distracted driving dangers. Some of them are being developed that target the vehicle. Others are focusing upon the phone.

1. Smart Wheel Device for the Car’s Steering Wheel

One of them is a new kind of gizmo to put on a car’s steering wheel, called the “Smart Wheel.” This steering wheel device has sensors embedded into the wheel itself. The sensors tell the device where the driver’s hand are placed by the pressure of the hands upon the device.

Drivers using a SmartWheel would hear a warning noise if they took their hands off the traditional “10 and 2” position. It also has a light that turns from green to the warning color of blue, alerting the driver that they are driving without their hands being in the proper position.

The Smart Wheel is being marketed as a device to be used by teen-aged drivers. It comes with an app that allows teens to sit down with their parents and review their driving experience, so parents can help their newbie teenage drivers to drive better.

2. Apps for the Smart Phone

Technology is also being developed to fight distracted driving by targeting the phone itself. Right now there are hundreds of apps being offered for anyone concerned about distracted driving dangers — although many of them are targeting teen drivers and their parents who may want to monitor their child’s behavior behind the wheel.

These include:

Canary ($14.99)

This app works on Android and Apple phones, and it reports to parents when a teen driver (or any other driver on the app, for that matter) is texting while driving, talking on their phone or surf the web while driving, etc.  Canary also alerts parents to teen drivers who may be speeding. It serves as a locating device, as well, letting parents know exactly where the teen and their phones are at any given moment.

Cellcontrol ($129/one car)

This app is compatible with almost every device, and unlike most of these apps that rely upon GPS, it uses Bluetooth to figure out when and where the car is being driven. Cellcontrol disables the phone in all sorts of ways, from being able to text to being able to take selfies and more. It is customizable. It also works on tablets and laptops that might be used in the vehicle. This app is not cheap, the pricing depends upon the number of cars; for details see its website.

Sprint’s Drive First (costs $2.00/month)

This app is provided by Sprint for its customers. It locks the phone when the car is being driven (determined by the GPS) and sends calls to voicemail. Texts get an auto-response and alerts are blocked. The app allows access to GPS navigation, music, etc., so the phone isn’t totally unusable by the driver. More details at the website.

DriveSafe.ly ($7.99/month)

This app reads aloud any text messages and e-mails that are received by the phone and sends out an auto-response. The driver does not have to touch the phone for this app.

Distracted Driving and Employers

From a personal injury perspective, the concern about distracted driving is a serious one because it is the cause of serious and life-altering motor vehicle accidents.  Not only are these distracted drivers dying in fatal accidents, there are innocent people who are dying as victims of these distracted drivers.

However, while many of these technological advances target teen drivers, who admittedly are at high risk, the need to deal with driving distractions extends to more than the parent-child situation.

For instance, what about commercial drivers who are driving distracted on the job?  (Like truck drivers….)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research studies reveal that distracted driving by hand-held phones is a huge danger for employees who have to drive as a part for their job. From the perspective of the company employer, this means costs of over $24,500 per crash, $150,000 per injury, and $3.6 million per fatality.

Under the laws of Indiana and Illinois, employers who have employees — truck drivers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, as well as those who drive delivery vans, and other commercial vehicles may be held legally liable for fatal accidents involving their employee under the laws of “vicarious liability.

If an employer can offer a distracted driving app and fails to do so, is that a breach of its legal duties? Should employers like trucking companies be required to have these distracted driving apps for their truck drivers? Good questions that need answers.

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