Distracted Driving – The New Drunk Driving: Who Should Pay the Fiddler?

We’ve posted a lot about drunk driving.  Obviously the drunks are responsible.  But frequently the people who serve them “one too many” are on the hook too.  Should that same the same framework apply to distracted driving?

Distracted driving entered the national spotlight about a decade ago. The problem started with people making calls and sending texts from their cellphones while driving. To combat this, new technologies were developed to keep drivers’ hands on the wheel (think Bluetooth and hands-free navigation).  But driving is just as much about the eyes and mind as it is the hands.

Recorded highway fatalities skyrocketed this past year to the highest number in over four decades. And according to the New York Times, 2016’s numbers are looking even worse.

So what is contributing to this surge in distracted driving? All of this innovative advancement like in-car Wi-Fi and a host of new apps, has actually led to an increase in internet use in vehicles that safety experts say is contributing to a surge in highway deaths. So those technologies that are supposed to make us safer (like voice recognition so we can keep our hands on the wheel and eyes on the road) may actually be encouraging people to use even more functions on their phones while driving.

This increased use of electronic devices while driving has been of national concern lately. Even if you look down at your phone for a moment, you become totally focused on that device. It might only be a few seconds, but it’s enough time to make a fatal mistake.

One specific example of the potentially deadly side effects of distracted driving involves the app, Snapchat.

A teenager, while using Snapchat, slammed her car into another while going over 100 miles per hour. The man she hit is suing both her and the photo-sharing company. Why? Snapchat has a “filter” that projects a user’s MPH onto the screen when a photo is taken. Although accompanied with the message “please, do not snap and drive”, many do. The man claims Snapchat was negligent in motivating its users to use the app while driving.

According to Candace Lighter, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, “[distracted driving is] dangerous, devastating, crippling, and it’s a killer that is still socially acceptable.”

In Washington restaurants, bars and clubs are responsible if they serve an apparently intoxicated customer/guest.  What’s the comparable standard for distracted driving?  And should liability fall on the maker of the App that was being used at the time of the collision, the phone manufacturer or the provider that connected the driver to the network?

These are broad social questions.  And they need to be answered in cases where the at-fault driver has inadequate insurance.

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