The idea of driving while distracted is an anomaly for many. They are appalled when they hear stories of others getting into accidents, perhaps killing innocent pedestrians or another driver, but when you ask them if they are guilty the answer most often heard is "No, not me. Well, maybe, but just at red lights or when I have to take a call." Whether it was eating breakfast or putting on your make-up 20 years ago, or sending a text or checking your Facebook account today, it all ends with the same result: preventable accidents that never should have happened.
It used to be the business woman fixing herself up because she was late getting out of the house or the guy who had to have his breakfast sandwich and coffee before hitting the jobsite, but now a much more dangerous distraction is taking over: the text message, the email, the social media update–and it is all a result of our phones becoming faster, smarter, and able to do more. And studies show that while putting on blush at a red light or taking a bite of your egg and cheese bagel isn't the smartest thing to do while you're driving, even worse is taking your eyes off the road for 5-10 second increments while you send an arbitrary text or the email you forgot to CC to someone last night.
Due to the never-ending cycle that is technology, laws that address distracted driving are rarely, if at all, ever up to date. Be it voice-activated cellphones, talk-to-text malfunctions, or GPS systems, most laws are not specific to each and every new form of technology that is designed to make our lives easier, but, when driving, can make your trip to work, school, or wherever you may be going quite dangerous.
Courts today are setting up new parameters for distracted-while-driving instances that are becoming a noticeable nuisance and tend to plague our roads and highways more often than not. More and more, lawmakers and the like are engaging in discourse about what types of devices cause the worst distractions and where the best improvements can be made to make our roadways safer. Such things as road conditions and even rules that companies give their drivers about driving and talking are being taken into consideration.
Distracted driving has been on the rise since 2004-2005 when the idea of texting began to gain serious popularity. It came to the forefront of serious discussion amongst PennDoT and lawmakers in 2009 when accidents involving the distractions of mobile phones skyrocketed to measures that were unavoidable. Today, rarely a few days go by where we don't hear of some tragic accident that was so easily avoidable if not for the advent of texting, talking, or GPS-ing while driving. In today's multi-tasking necessary world, it was only a matter of time before the nature of cell phone usage became an issue ready for serious discussion.
Most attorneys, whether for plaintiffs or defendants, agree that pushing the liability aspect as far as the jury will take it is normal for cases involving distracted driving. Trends show that lawyers are attempting to get judges to expand the idea of "liability" and take a serious approach at looking at how and why drivers are liable in these instances.
A new phenomenon, now considered in courtrooms as "in-attentional blindness," is helping litigators prove that hands-free devices, once considered a safe alternative, are in fact no safer than holding a mobile device to your ear or in front of your face while you drive. Indeed, devices like text-to-speech and speech-direction GPS are just as if not more dangerous than their replaced counterparts and are thus subject to serious products liability claims.
Injured drivers and other such plaintiffs are now suing negligent motorists and manufacturers because there isn't built-in technology that makes an attempt to stop drivers from using their devices while they are in motion. New litigation, according to many law professionals, will question why manufacturers of mobile devices and automobiles alike have not taken into consideration preventative programming that disallow drivers from using the most at-risk features of their devices when they are in motion.
To date, no PA appellate court has ruled whether or not punitive damage claims are to be legally brought against drivers for using interactive mobile devices during the moment of an accident, although there have been several trial judges who have considered and judged the issue with evidence of texting or talking when the accident occurred.
Source: The Legal Intelligencer, "Distracted-Driving Cases Are on the Rise in Pa." 9 September 2013