A California woman has taken to social media to express her outrage after a highway patrol officer pulled her over and issued a ticket for driving while wearing Google Glass. Google Glass is a new device still in testing mode that allows users to operate a small screen suspended in front of their face using voice commands. The screen can browse the web, view photos and videos and do a variety of other tasks. The woman’s online posts expressed confusion about whether California distracted driving laws allowed the issuing of such a ticket. In her case it was given under a part of the state code that was written to apply to video monitors installed in some luxury cars but is broadly written to include screens of any nature visible to a driver, except for those used for GPS devices or backup cameras.
For those who are at all familiar with distracted driving laws, the idea that a ticket could be given for using Google Glass is no surprise. Distracted driving laws aren’t about the specific technology since that is always evolving, but rather about protecting other motorists and passengers from a drive who does not have their eyes on the road, regardless of the reason. This means that drivers can get tickets for things like eating or putting on lipstick if a police officer observes them doing so in a way that distracts them from safe driving.
In this case the woman says that she was not using the device at the time although it was powered on. The ticket also notes that she was traveling well above the speed limit at the time she was pulled over.
When drivers are distracted or otherwise acting negligently, it is important that they are held accountable for those choices, particularly if anyone is injured as a result of their actions.
Distracted driving puts all California motorists at risk
If you have seen a news program, newspaper article or magazine in the past few years, you probably know about the epidemic of distracted driving. Motorists are multi-tasking behind the wheel in record numbers, causing car accidents that injure nearly 400,000 people a year and kill more than 3,000. Truly tragic is the fact that, according to data provided by the national Highway Traffic Safety Administration novice drivers (those under the age of 20) are particularly vulnerable, and more than 11 percent of all young drivers were distracted at the time they caused motor vehicle accidents. This is a higher rate of distraction than any other age group.
Legislative action only addresses part of the problem
Many states – California included – have taken legislative steps to help discourage drivers from using hand-held cell phones and from texting. It is now illegal in the state for anyone to text behind the wheel, and is against the law for public transit operators and novice drivers to use a cell phone while driving, regardless of whether it is hand-held or hands-free. Furthermore, President Barack Obama signed an executive order into law in 2009 that prohibits all federal employees from using hand-held cell phones behind the wheel in the course of their employment.
Even so, there are myriad other activities that can be distracting enough behind the wheel to cause car accidents, but no laws have addressed them. It might actually be impossible for a law to address these types of otherwise innocuous activities, but they are indeed distracting. They include:
- Surfing the web
- Using a GPS/navigation system
- Reading a map
- Having boisterous conversations with passengers
- Changing the music selection on the radio or mp3 player
Is hands-free technology a better option?
Some states (including California) have now passed laws outlawing the use of handheld cell phones for most civilian drivers, and have been encouraging the use of hands-free technologies if communication is a priority. Unfortunately, recent studies – like the one sponsored by the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety (performed by the University of Utah Center for the Prevention of Distracted Driving) – prove what some experts have known all along, that using hands-free technology to talk, text or email while driving is just as distracting as using a hand-held cell phone to talk or text.
The issue of distracted driving rests on the level of three distinct types of distractions: visual, manual and cognitive. Visual distraction is something that pulls your eyes away from the road, like looking around for your cell phone if it rings, or glancing down to type in a number. Manual distraction is something that takes your hands off the wheel, like sending a text. Cognitive distraction is the hardest to measure, and can only be accurately weighed with the use of specialized equipment that analyzes brain function.
The AAA study shows that using hands-free technologies, particularly those that use voice recognition and capture to compose or reply to texts and emails are just as distracting to your brain – in some cases even more so – than doing that activity manually.
Are you a victim?
Has a driver’s texting or emailing behind the wheel left you with serious injuries? Have you lost a loved one in a fatal car accident caused by a distracted driver? Do you need more information about holding the at-fault driver accountable for the harm you have suffered? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” speak with a skilled California personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
Holding California’s distracted Uber drivers accountable
A previous post on this blog discussed how California lawmakers are taken yet another legal step toward cracking down in distracted drivers, both in the Los Angeles area and throughout the rest of the state. As this blog has discussed, while texting and driving and cell phones are a problem, there are other common sources of distracted driving. Any one of these distractions could lead to a serious accident, even fatality.
For instance, with the continued and growing popularity of ridesharing, there have unfortunately been many residents who have fallen victim to distracted Uber drivers. Uber drivers, being ordinary citizens, who may even have other jobs, are not professional motorists and, as such, may not have the same training and experience, or be subject to the same rules and oversight as professional drivers.
As a result, they can easily get distracted by the Uber app. In a rush to pick up a would-be passenger and homing in exclusively on the pick-up location, an Uber driver can easily strike a pedestrian or hit another vehicle. Sometimes, even the Uber app can take the eyes of a driver off the road for long enough to cause a serious accident.
Fortunately, our state’s laws protect the public from negligent Uber drivers by requiring additional insurance coverage. Still, this does not mean that these drivers and their insurance companies will not fight to avoid paying the compensation that they owe to accident victims.
Distracted driving happens most often in the summer
While distracted driving happens throughout the year, a recent study suggests that it is more common for people to drive distracted during the summer months. Specifically, the study found that, relative to other months, the frequency of distracted driving increases by 10 percent during June, July and August.
In practical terms, on average, about 40 percent of drivers on California’s roads in the summer are going to be distracted for at least 15 minutes for every hour they drive. For reference, 15 minutes is about half the length of a short television show or the evening news.
It is a long time for a person to have their eyes off of the road, especially when it only takes a split second of inattentiveness to cause a fatal motor vehicle accident.
Those who were familiar with the results of the study suggested that the spike in distracted driving over the summer months could be attributed to two factors. First, since school is out of session, younger drivers who would normally be in high school or college are free and available to drive to work or other activities. Since they are on the road more, these drivers have more opportunity to engage in distracted driving.
Also, drivers of all ages are driving outside of the Los Angeles area and Orange County for vacations, weekend trips and the like. For whatever reason, perhaps because they are looking up directions, people who are going to unfamiliar sites or using new roads tend to engage in texting and driving or other behaviors that cause distractions.
Drivers in Orange County would do well to be especially alert for distracted driving during these warmer months. If they are involved in an accident with a distracted driver, they may have the option of pursuing the driver for compensation.
California fares pretty well when it comes to distracted driving
As this blog has reported before, distracted driving is a continuing problem in Orange County and the rest of the Golden State. However, at least according to one study, California actually fares pretty well relative to other states, at least when it comes to the frequency of fatal car accidents involving the misuse of a cell phone.
According to the report, California experienced a rate of 1.03 fatalities, per 10 billion miles driven in the state, which could be blamed on a driver’s being distracted by a cell phone. This ranked California 33rd among the 50 states, with the state ranking 50th having the lowest fatality rate.
While this puts California in the front part of the pack when it comes to cellular phone safety behind the wheel, there is certainly room for further improvement.
According to the authors of the study, California lawmakers have taken many of the proper steps to curb the ongoing problem of texting and driving and unsafe cellular phone use behind the wheel. For instance, California law prohibits the use of handheld devices while trying to drive, and the state also bans texting and driving. As of recently, though, California did not prohibit inexperienced drivers from using cell phones altogether.
On the whole, though, the question may be what additional steps the state needs to take in order to further improve in this important aspect of traffic safety. Certainly, further public awareness and additional enforcement efforts might help. However, it is also important to remember that distracted drivers who cause accidents can be held financially accountable via a civil lawsuit. A victim of a driver who was misusing his or her cell phone can seek professional assistance with evaluating his or her legal options.
NPR, “’I Was Very Shocked,’ Says Driver Ticketed for Wearing Google Glass,” Bill Chappell, Oct. 31, 2013.