According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), thousands are injured in motor vehicle accidents and nine people die each day in crashes caused by distracted driving. These are preventable tragedies and while distractions come from a variety of sources, texting while driving is the primary reason for these deaths.
Distracting Driving Epidemic and Evidence of Texting-while-Driving
We’ve discussed how distracted driving has risen to epidemic proportions in the United States. From an injury claim standpoint, one of the biggest issues with drivers causing crashes while they are texting and driving is proof. How do you confirm that the fatal crash was caused by distracted driving? And, of course, how can we work to prevent these kinds of accidents in the future?
This year, two new kinds of technologies are offering some hope in combating the distracted driving epidemic. Both look promising for making Indiana and Illinois roadways safer for all of us.
1. Textalyzer for Proof of Distracted Driving
Police want to stop distracted drivers just as much as they want to get drunk drivers off the road. Now, law enforcement may have a new tool that will help them determine if someone has been using their phone while driving their vehicle.
The device can be used by a police officer after a car crash or when the driver has been pulled over in a traffic stop. The officer can plug his Textalyzer into the driver’s smart phone and download data off that phone.
Once the Textalyzer has the downloaded info, the officer can confirm how the phone was recently used.
Immediately, the police officer will know the times that the phone was swiped, tapped, or clicked. He will not be able to read the content of any texts or messages. But he can confirm the last use of that phone – and if the Textalyzer shows it was being used at the time of the crash, then it offers proof that the driver was driving distracted at the time of the crash.
This information can be included in the police report. That police report can then be used as evidence in any subsequent injury claim or wrongful death lawsuit based on the crash.
A. Privacy Concerns
Of course, there are civil rights concerns and there are those charging that the police should not be able to access a person’s cell phone in this manner.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warns that not only should law enforcement not be able to take your phone for a Textalyzer download in a traffic stop, but that there are no guarantees that the police will stop there. Once they have the phone, who’s to say they won’t invade the owner’s privacy by reading things and checking site history, etc.?
This means that we can expect civil rights advocates to challenge the use of Textalyzers in Indiana and Illinois as well as the rest of the country.
Not that this is going to be happening anytime soon. First, laws have to be passed to approve the use of these new gizmos. And, of course, they have to be available and marketed to law enforcement. Right now, Cellebrite is still in the debuting process of this new product.
B. State Law Passage for Textalyzer Use by Police
Before the Textalyzer can be used by a trooper in Indiana or a cop in Chicago, there will have to be state laws allowing them to do so. This is already happening in the State of New York.
A proposed law has been introduced in New York to allow Textalyzers as part of the official police investigation after a motor vehicle accident.
“Distracted driving is a serious concern, and that’s why we already have laws that allow police to access phones and phone records when they need to. But this bill gives police power to take and search peoples’ phones — which contain our most personal, private information — at every fender bender. We don’t yet know if Textalyzers can even detect distracted driving. But we are certain that enforcing this proposed law would violate people’s privacy and could potentially impute guilt for innocent activities.”
2. Do Not Disturb While Driving Mode for iPhone
The second new technology in the fight against distracted driving comes from Apple. It is a new feature that will be offered for the latest iPhone, the Apple iOS11. The iOS11 will be available in Indiana and Illinois sometime this fall.
This new iPhone feature will allow the phone itself to confirm that its owner is driving. It will then automatically block communications. The screen will be dark while the vehicle is being driven.
How? The phone will recognize that the driver is in a vehicle because of its connection with the car’s USB connection or Bluetooth. Furthermore, the phone’s internal sensors will know how fast the car is being driven even if the phone is not connected to the vehicle.
It’s called the “Do Not Disturb While Driving Mode” for iPhone. From Apple:
iOS 11 introduces a new way to help drivers stay more focused on the road with Do Not Disturb while driving. iPhone can detect when you may be driving and automatically silence notifications to keep the screen dark. Users have the option of sending an auto reply to contacts listed in Favorites to let them know they are driving and cannot respond until they arrive at their destination.
How These New Gizmos Can Help Accident Victims
From a personal injury perspective, both of these new technologies will benefit potential victims of distracted drivers in the future. How?
- First, the ability of law enforcement to confirm that a driver was distracted by their phone at the accident scene can help the victim prove fault in the crash for her damages claim or wrongful death case.
- Second, having a phone that automatically blocks incoming communications to a driver’s phone goes a long way toward preventing wrecks and fatal crashes from happening in the first place. Just having this technology on the market alone is beneficial: if the distracted driver has a phone which offers this new feature and fails to take advantage of it, then arguably he may be considered grossly negligent if his distracted driving causes a crash.
Of course, both these tech advances are still on the horizon. Today’s reality is that we are at high risk of being hit by a distracted driver here in Indiana and Illinois. It’s vital that we educate ourselves and our loved ones on how best to drive defensively and minimize our risk of a distracted driving accident. Let’s be careful out there!