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New Distracted Driver Guidelines: Will They Prevent Texting while Driving?

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The U.S. Department of Transportation has released new guidelines that discourage automakers from installing any devices that allow drivers to enter text for Internet browsing or text messaging. According to Detroit News and other media reports, the new guidelines also recommend disallowing any in-car devices that display Web page content, text messages, emails or other similar content.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reiterated that these new guidelines are just that. They are suggestions from the government that may be voluntarily adopted by automakers. The government has given automakers three years before the voluntary guidelines take effect – up from an initially proposed two years.

NHTSA’s proposed character-based limit for manual text entry during driving has been replaced by a recommendation against any amount of manual text entry by the driver, be it for texting or Internet browsing. The guidelines now prohibit any amount of text for reading from books, magazines, Web content, social media sites and text messages. The only exception NHTSA is making is for maps or location information.

Distracted Driving Statistics

NHTSA drew up these guidelines after finding out that distracted driving laws have not done much over the last couple of years when different states have enacted texting and cell phone bans.

• The number of people killed in distracted driving crashes increased in 2011 to 3,331 from 3,092 in 2010.

• The number of people injured in distracted driving crashes fell to 387,000 in 2011 from 416,000 in 2010.

• The number of crashes involving cell phone rose from 47,000 in 2010 to 50,000 in 2011.

• There was very little change in driver behavior and use of cell phones between the two years.

Although carmakers are lobbying lawmakers to put off these voluntary guidelines, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wants to prohibit drivers from making hand-held and hands-free phone calls while driving. In December 2011, the NTSB made a recommendation that it would not bar calls made directly through a vehicle such as GM’s OnStar. However, the agency does want to prohibit calls made through a vehicle and a “paired” hand-held cellphone.

California law prohibits drivers from texting or using a handheld cell phone while driving. According to California Vehicle Code Section 23123 (a): “A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.”

Devices Take Driver Focus Away

According to a recently released study by the Southwest Region University Transportation Center and conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, even hands-free texting can be perilous. The study showed that drivers’ reaction times slowed down significantly while manually texting or even using a hands-free app. Researchers observed that drivers still took their eyes off the road to manually type.

A NHTSA study also made similar findings – that visual-manual tasks can affect a driver’s focus and increase the likelihood of a car crash by three times. NHTSA determined that the greatest distractions include sending text messages, browsing Web pages and dialing phone numbers. The study also found that sending text messages takes the driver’s eyes off the roadway for about 23.3 seconds, which doubles the danger of a collision or a near-collision.

The Department of Transportation’s voluntary guidelines are part of its Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving – a program the agency has been trying to put in place for three years with the goal of eradicating the epidemic that distracted driving has become with the proliferation and extensive use of in-car electronic devices. Earlier this month, NHTSA revealed shocking statistics that at any daytime moment, about 660,000 drivers nationwide are using a cell phone behind the wheel. Officials say they believe that these guidelines can save thousands of lives provided they are combined with good legislation, enforcement and education.

Victims of Distracted Driving

There is no question that distracted driving is negligent driving. A distracted driving car accident can cause serious injuries or even fatalities. Injured victims of distracted drivers can seek compensation from the at-fault parties for damages including medical expenses, lost wages, cost of hospitalization, rehabilitation, permanent injuries and pain and suffering.

Families of deceased victims can file a wrongful death claim seeking compensation for damages such as medical and funeral costs, lost future income and loss of love and companionship. Injured victims would also be well advised to contact an experienced California personal injury lawyer who has experience handling similar cases successfully. A knowledgeable lawyer will use key evidence such as cell phone records to determine liability and to ensure that victims are justly compensated for their significant losses.

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