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Hands-Free Devices Do Not Protect Against Distracted Driving Risks

In California, there are strict laws precluding drivers from texting or using handheld electronic devices behind the wheel. Unfortunately, these laws may not do enough to protect against distracted driving crashes, as new data has revealed that distracted driving can be dangerous even when a hands-free device is used. A California injury lawyer discusses how current distracted driving laws are failing to protect the public. 


Distracted Driving Risks Exist with Hands-Free Devices


The laws in California are very strict when it comes to distracted driving. In fact, Vehicle Code 23123, which prohibits texting and phone calls using handheld devices, has been applied broadly. Last March, for example, a California court ruled that the law prohibited any handheld use of the phone, including using mapping software. 


California takes a tough stance on distracted driving in order to prevent accidents, as the practice is extremely dangerous. However, state law imposes a ban only on the use of handheld devices. It does not preclude drivers from using programs, such as Apple’s Siri, to use certain features of their phone when operating their vehicles. 


“The fact that California’s distracted driving laws don’t address handheld device use could be an oversight in the law,” according to the California injury lawyer, “especially in light of recent studies indicating that drivers could be just as distracted, or more distracted, when using a voice-activated app as they are when holding the phone in their hands. “


A team at the University of Utah conducted the research, which was a comprehensive study that observed driver behavior over a period of two years.  The study, which was sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and published in The Washington Post, determined the impact of different tasks on a driver’s ability to pay attention to the road. 


In order to determine how driver behavior was affected by distraction, researchers conducted a series of controlled experiments using road tests as well as driving simulators. Test subjects were put into cars with electrode wires attached to their brains in order to monitor the brain’s response to different distractions.  The drivers were then asked to drive while exposed to various stimuli. 


Based upon observing the brain’s responses to distractions, researchers confirmed certain facts that have been illustrated in prior studies, including the fact that more complicated and absorbing tasks pose a greater distraction from the road and create the highest potential accident risk. 


The study also revealed a problem called “inattention blindness,” which helps explain the delayed reaction time of distracted drivers. It is attention blindness that causes drivers to see things but not to react to them. For example, when a driver observes something that should cause him or her to swerve or brake, such as an oncoming vehicle, a driver who is distracted may notice the obstacle but it would take longer for it to register in his or her brain. This means there would be a delay before the driver could react appropriately. Inattention blindness has also been recognized in past studies.


The most notable finding of the new research, however, was data indicating that motorists who use voice-activated texting software may actually be at greater risk than drivers who text using a handheld device: “interacting with the speech-to-text system was the most cognitively distracting” activity for drivers.   


With distracted driving causing an estimated 3,331 deaths and 387,000 injuries in 2011 alone, it is important for laws to deter any type of distracting and dangerous behavior. 


“If California really wants to prevent accidents caused by distracted driving, the state should consider limitations on using voice-control software to operate a phone while driving,” said the California injury lawyer. 


A driver who makes use of Siri or other voice programs on the phone could be considered careless or negligent and thus could be liable for any accident he or she causes. The driver could be found liable under California law if an average reasonable driver would not have engaged in the dangerous distracted driving behavior. 


Additional articles on distracted driving, public safety, and the personal injury claims process are available to the public free of charge through our office.


If you would like to request one of these free resources, or to discuss a specific legal matter with a California injury lawyer, feel free to call 866-981-5596.

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