Our relationship with technological innovation is complicated and cuts both ways. Technology gives us the ability to stay connected through phone calls, text messages, emails and social media. Yet, it’s one of the leading causes of distracted driving, causing vehicle accidents, injuries, and fatalities. In turn, we are finding news ways to use technology to curb distracted driving, through smartphone apps.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2014 there were 3,179 people killed and 431,000 injured in motor vehicle accidents involving distracted drivers. Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention from the primary task of driving. Some examples of distracted driving include eating, drinking, reading, talking with passengers, and using a cell phone.
With the advent of the smartphone, drivers essentially have a computer at their fingertips, causing accidents from cell phone usage to skyrocket. According to the National Safety Council, smartphone-related accidents have increased for the third consecutive year in a row, with texting while driving making a vehicle accident 8-23 times more likely.
State Laws that Aim To Prevent Distracted Driving
In 46 states and the District of Columbia, it is illegal to text while driving. The table below shows the penalties that each state imposes for texting while driving.
As of 2017, Arizona does not have a statewide ban on the use of cell phones while driving. Multiple localities have ratified their own bans on text messaging. In Arizona, the cities of Phoenix, Flagstaff, Tucson, and Tempe have banned the use of texting while driving. Additionally, Coconino and Pima Counties have banned the use of texting while driving.
Phoenix Municipal Code § 36-76.01 bans texting while driving. The law states, in part:
A. A person shall not operate a motor vehicle on a street while using a personal digital assistant to send or receive a written message while the motor vehicle is in motion.
B. This section does not apply to any of the following:
1. Law enforcement and safety personnel.
2. Drivers of authorized emergency vehicles.
3. Holders of commercial driver licenses while driving within the scope of their employment.
4. Public transit personnel.
5. A person who is reporting reckless or negligent behavior.
6. The use of a personal digital assistant for the sole purpose of communicating with any of the following regarding an emergency situation:
(a) An emergency response operator.
(b) A hospital, physician’s office or health clinic.
(c) A provider of ambulance services.
(d) A provider of fire fighting services.
(e) A law enforcement agency.
7. A person who believes the person is in physical danger if the person is the only adult in the motor vehicle.
C. For purposes of this section, “personal digital assistant” means a wireless electronic communication device that provides for data communication other than by voice.
D. A violation of this section is a nonmoving civil traffic violation.
(Ord. No. G-4985, § 1, adopted 9-19-2007, eff. 9-19-2007; Ord. No. G-5034, § 1, adopted 12-5-2007, eff. 1-4-2008)
Distracted Driving Accident Liability
In order to prove liability in an accident involving cell phone use, it is very likely that evidence will be needed to prove that the driver was not paying attention. Three potential ways to prove the accident was caused by cell phone usage include:
- Cellphone records proving the driver was on a call or texting during the accident;
- Photos or video from a passenger cell phone, surveillance cameras or police dash cams; and
- Police reports.
Distracted Driving Prevention Apps
As distracted driving injuries and fatalities continue to rise, companies have started to create a variety of apps to encourage safe driving and block cell phone usage while driving.
Apps that encourage safe driving include:
1. Drivesafe.ly: A free mobile app that reads text messages and emails aloud in real time and automatically responds without the driver touching the mobile phone.
2. SafeDrive: An app that starts awarding points once the driver exceeds 6mph and does not touch their screen. The driver may compete against other drivers or use their accumulated points on discounted products offered by responsible companies.
3. Drivemode: An app that turns your text messages into audio that your phone will read aloud with the touch of a button. There are prerecorded responses to send as responses back to the texts that the driver receives.
Apps that block cell phone use while driving include:
1. Live2Txt: An app that will block incoming calls and texts while driving. The app will silence incoming notifications and send a customized message alerting the person that you are unable to respond.
2. Cellcontrol: An app and device that is designed for parents and is subscription based. The device is placed under the vehicle’s dashboard and will block the driver from sending texts or phone calls while the car is moving. If the device is removed or deactivated the parent would receive an email or text alert.
3. TextArrest: An app that prevents emailing and texting while the car is in motion.