Articles Tagged with distracted driving

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Taking a stroll down the streets of Atlanta can be a healthy pastime or a means of getting in your social interactions for the week, but the cheapest form of transportation is quickly becoming one of the more dangerous. One unfortunate story in Smyrna, GA last week tells of a pedestrian fatality at the hands of a distracted driver; the driver made a phone call, drove off of the roadway, and struck the pedestrian. Another upsetting story in the AJC last week reported of a woman killed in Atlanta as she attempted to cross I-75 and was struck by multiple cars. Recent reports suggest that she attempted to run across the highway due to a dispute over drugs that resulted in someone chasing her. Unfortunately, this story is just one of many that could be written in Georgia this year, as pedestrian fatalities are on the rise on the national level. From 2007 to 2016, the number of pedestrian fatalities increased by 27%, and whether the victim is a harmless pedestrian walking to work or drugs are at play, researchers are not quite certain what is the main cause for the increasing numbers of pedestrian fatalities in the recent years.

Reports over the last few years have found a few potential factors to the increasing fatalities. Obviously, cell phone usage is an issue. Whether a distracted driver is using a phone while operating a vehicle or a distracted pedestrian has his or her face buried in the phone while walking through a crosswalk, cell phones are making us more distracted, less aware of our surroundings, and slower to react when we encounter danger. Cell phone use increased by 236% in the years 2010 to 2016, providing greater opportunity for cell phone related pedestrian accidents.

Many studies and reports suggest the increase in cell phone usage could be a leading cause of pedestrian involved accidents, but a new study provides an interesting possible factor in the rising number of pedestrian fatalities: marijuana. The report does not intend to imply direct correlation of any sort but merely suggests that the possible impairment of judgment and reaction time — for both drivers and pedestrians — due to recreational use of marijuana could lead to higher pedestrian incidents on the roadway. The study found that in DC and the 7 states that legalized recreational use of marijuana between 2012 and 2016, there was a collective 16.4% INCREASE in pedestrian fatalities between the first 6 months of 2016 and the first 6 months of 2017. Conversely, in the remaining states, there was a collective 5.8% DECREASE in pedestrian fatalities between those two time spans.

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Stop, Look, Listen!  We often hear that in regard to what you should do when you approach a train track in your vehicle. Stop, look and listen for a train before driving over the tracks. I can remember when I was little and rode the school bus home, the bus driver even opened the door to the bus at train tracks so he could see better and hear any potential approaching train more clearly. But shouldn’t the same rules apply for pedestrians before they cross a busy city street?  Should pedestrians also stop, look and listen for their own safety? Are they even required to do so?

I drive down Edgewood Avenue in Downtown Atlanta to get from my house to my office every day. Edgewood is a busy city street that goes through the heart of Georgia State University.  At any given time of the day, there are hundreds of college students crossing Edgewood Avenue to get to their next class to to their dorm room or maybe even to the library.l  The three photos above demonstrate a typical day with GSU students crossing Edgewood Avenue.  These photos show students crossing at the light, but students often cross Edgewood in the middle of the block, not at an intersection and without any traffic signal. Invariably, these young men and women are texting while walking, talking on their cell phones in deep conversations while walking, or even listening to something on their phones with earphones on while they cross one of the busiest streets in Downtown Atlanta.  Many pedestrians attempt to cross while vehicle traffic has a green light.  One of the photos above shows pedestrians crossing the street diagonally, which is certainly against the rules. Watching this sort of nonchalance and devil-may-care attitude regarding oncoming cars while they strut right out into the street had me wondering:  who would be at fault if a pedestrian crossing illegally where struck by a car that had a green light?  Does  a person who texts while they cross a street value his or her life? Or does the lack of taking any safety precautions for their own person, e.g., not texting while walking, forfeit the right to blame someone else when they are struck by a vehicle?

There is no question that texting while walking, especially while crossing a street, is a bad idea.   Research has found that, mile for mile, distracted walking results in more injuries than distracted driving, and makes pedestrians 60 percent more likely to veer off course. At least one city has taken the step to protect people from themselves.   Starting Wednesday, texting while walking across a street in Honolulu is illegal, thanks to a new law that allows police to fine pedestrians up to $35 for checking their phone, while crossing an intersection in the Hawaiian city and surrounding county.  Honolulu is, apparently, the first city in the U.S. and perhaps the world to ban texting while walking (TWW).  “This is really milestone legislation that sets the bar high for safety,” said Brandon Elefante, a City Council member who proposed the bill, in an interview with the New York Times.

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In continuing the series of blogs on distracted driving, I saw a heartbreaking story on the news last week that unfortunately fits right in with the other blogs on Texting While Driving and Snapchatting While Driving. An 18 year old girl was driving her 14 year old sister while operating a Livestream video feature of the Instagram app. Her car drifted into the other lane, and when she overcorrected, the car flipped. Her 14 year old sister was ejected from the car and died. The older sister — while driving — captured the whole thing on video.

The older sister was arrested on-site for suspicion of DUI and gross vehicular manslaughter. Even if the family does not file a civil complaint — for the wrongful death of one daughter caused by another — the driver faces 13 years in prison if convicted on all 6 felony counts.  (Keep in mind that there may be family immunity laws that would even prevent such a lawsuit).

In a recent case involving an accident while using the Snapchat app, the plaintiff sued Snapchat, Inc. for having the “speed overlay” filter, which has incentives for a driver to use the app while the car is in motion at high speeds. This differs from the Instagram Live function, which seemingly has no “incentives” or benefits for using the function except keeping friends up to date with your every move. Were this motor vehicle accident to be filed as a civil complaint, it would be interesting to see if Instagram could be held liable for the resulting death, as the “incentives” from the Snapchat app were the main argument behind the plaintiff’s claim.

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Parental concern, law enforcement warnings, and user disapproval of the recent updates to the Snapchat app are the least of the company’s worries. Though Snapchat, Inc. has made the headlines recently due to the updates, this isn’t the first time the company has been under scrutiny from the public. In April of 2016, a complaint for damages was filed in a Georgia state court against the company for injuries sustained from a motor vehicle accident, claiming that the main cause of the accident was the speed filter of the Snapchat app.

The speed filter allows a driver behind the wheel to document his or her speed by “snapping” a picture while the car is in motion. On this one particular night, a teenage driver allegedly opened her Snapchat app while driving as an attempt to snap a picture of her car reaching 100 mph. The driver allegedly, according to the Complaint, accelerated until reaching approximately 107 mph before she realized another driver had pulled onto the road. She crashed into him at full speed. Both cars were totaled, leaving multiple people with tremendous injuries – both physical and psychological – and thousands of dollars in expenses.

The plaintiffs have sued Snapchat for negligence, in part because this is, according to the Complaint, not the first instance in which a Snapchat user has used the speed filter of the app and caused a car crash. Petitions online even called for the app to remove the filter or for the app to restrict the usage of the filter while driving. Despite knowing that the speed filter presented many dangers to the public, as of the date of the incident above, Snapchat had not removed the speed filter, thus creating the perfect opportunity for another distracted driver to cause serious harm.

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In Washington last month, Governor Jay Inslee took a step towards improving the safety of his streets by signing a law prohibiting the holding of any electronic device (cell phones, tablets, etc) while driving or waiting at a stop light. The law will go in effect in July due to the Governor’s veto of a section that would have postponed the law’s implementation until 2019. The matter is just too important to wait.

As technology’s prevalence in our everyday lives increases, its capability of distraction from our other daily activities increases as well. This includes our activity within our car. The human’s false sense of ability to multitask often leads to problems behind the wheel. The driver only looks away for one second or only needs to pick up that napkin or only needs to change the radio station or only needs to send that last text. But those single and quick moments that the driver’s attention is diverted are the single and quick moments that can take the driver’s or someone else’s life.

The problem doesn’t only occur with drivers looking away. A driver can be very much so distracted while his or her eyes are fixed on the road. There are many different types of distractions: internal (items inside the car), external (objects outside the car), visual (eyes taken off the road), manual (hands taken off the wheel), and cognitive (distracting thoughts). It just so happens that the use of the cell phone is a combination distraction; it combines the dangerous aspects of the various types of distractions into one grand distraction. In the entire time that you go through the process of picking the phone up, looking down at it to find the contact you want to call, thinking about if the other person can answer your call, and physically dialing the call, your focus has been taken off driving long enough to have an accident.

Ridesharing services have been advancing in the app world over the last few years. Quite a few companies have become enormously popular for their efficiency and ease compared to traditional taxi companies. GPS based with pre-set payment settings, the whole interaction takes place online and even shows you a map counting down the moments until your driver arrives. Uber has quickly become a household name, and alongside Lyft, dominate the ridesharing sphere. There are, however, a number of safety concerns associated with the process. It is a rather strange concept to get into a stranger’s personal car and trust them to drive you safely to your destination. Recently, Uber has been attempting to address many of these concerns as well as handle a number of injury lawsuits that have occurred.

Fortunately from an insurance perspective, these ridesharing companies have got you covered. There is major debate between the taxi companies and Uber/Lyft regarding this topic, because taxi companies believe they better protect against possible insurance disparities after an injury. Largely in response to this criticism and attack by traditional taxi companies,  Lyft and Uber now both have  liability policies that provide additional coverage in the event that the passenger is injured in a driver’s vehicle and the driver’s insurance doesn’t cover all of their injuries, which is almost always the case. Not only that, but even in the event of an accident in which the company driver is not at fault, and the other motorist at fault is uninsured, they will still provide coverage if you are injured.

The Georgia Legislature passed a ridesharing bill this session (2015) that essentially sought to level the regulation  of Uber and Lyft with that of traditional taxi companies.  House Bill 225, which passed the Senate by a 48-2 vote, is the culmination of efforts to require the app-based transportation industry to meet the same standards that apply to other transportation providers, such as taxis and limousine companies.  “The world as we know it in transportation has changed because of transportation companies like Uber and Lyft,” said Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, who carried the bill in the Senate. “This creates a new framework that allows them to grow with light regulation and common-sense policies.”  Governor Deal signed the bill into law in March 2015 which mandates companies like Uber must have $1 Million in insurance coverage for its passengers. There continue to be squabbles between the traditional taxi companies and Uber, but free market principles of competition should control the outcome.

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One of my favorite holidays, the Fourth of July, celebrating our Nation’s Independence, has just passed. It’s the time to celebrate our nation’s formation and relax, wherever you might be, with family and friends over the long weekend. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most dangerous weekends of the year due to an array of safety hazards. I hope it was a safe holiday for you and your family. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Driving: Independence Day weekend consistently results in the highest amount of fatal crashes in the U.S. Between 2008 and 2012, there was a calculated average of 127 fatal car accidents each year just on July 4th. Just about everyone is going to be on the road, and will likely be distracted and hurried. Distracted driving, as I’ve written about before, has become a major problem over the last decade due to cell phones. For your own safety and those around you, put them away while driving! Alcohol is also a significant factor in crashes, and accounted for 41% of deaths last year. So needless to say, DON’T drive drunk. The ride app Uber is a great new tool and when in doubt, call a cab. Also, DO remember to buckle up. The CDC reports that it can reduce injuries and deaths in a crash by 50%.

Fireworks: Because of the new laws put in to effect July 1st, it is now legal to set off fireworks in Georgia between certain times on holidays. This is great news for fireworks fanatics, because you won’t have to drive to Alabama anymore for your sparklers; however, it is very important to be cautious while using them. In 2013, there were eight deaths and 11,400 injuries in the US just due to fireworks. If you’re lighting them yourself, DO make sure you’re in a clear outdoor area with no surrounding trees or brush. Keep a safe distance from them as they go off, and always have a water source nearby, just in case. I also recently read about fireworks triggering PTSD for veterans, as the loud explosions can cause distress for those dealing with the disorder. If you know of veterans in your neighborhood and plan to set off fireworks this weekend, it may be courteous to let them know.