Safety Concerns About Texting Being Ignored by U. S. Auto Manufacturers

inside carI have written extensively about the dangers of texting while driving. It is clear that the use of a cell phone and/or texting cause driver distraction and increases the likelihood of personal injury accidents and deaths. Recently, I ran across three articles pertaining to texting and driving. It’s interesting to see how different parties, i.e. government, private industry, and the consumer look at this issue.

The first article dealt with a new law passed by a small town in New Jersey. The City of Fort Lee, New Jersey recently passed a law which prohibits pedestrians from texting and walking. In that small town of 35,000 people there have been three pedestrian fatality accidents this year alone. The government hopes to reduce the number of serious pedestrian accidents by prohibiting the use of cell phones by pedestrians. They now issue $85 tickets to texting pedestrians. The city residents reaction was that the tickets were a lot of money, and they felt they could safely walk while texting. But, the City relied on a Stony Brook University study which concluded that people who were walking and texting at the same time were 60 per cent more likely to veer off line than non-texters.

In the Washington Post, there was an article concerning the increasing liability of corporations who permit their employees to text or use cell phones while on the job. The Post noted four separate accidents where jurors found companies liable for their employees accidents when the employees were texting behind the wheel. In one case, an Arkansas lumber company employee crippled a 78 year old woman. The company ended up paying the woman $16.1 million in compensation for her catastrophic injuries. In another case, a cable company employee ran into the rear of another car, killing a thirty-two year old woman resulting in a wrongful death suit. Several more serious injury accidents are cited in the article.

The National Safety Council has done extensive studies on the incidence of cell phone use, texting, and their relationship to auto accidents. In 2010, 9.4 per cent of highway fatalities were related to driver distraction. The council estimates that mobile phone use is a contributing cause to 24 per cent of auto crashes!

So we have the small city of Fort Lee which recognizes the dangers of texting and how it can distract even pedestrians. We have juries across the country recognizing the serious dangers of texting and cell phone use, and holding companies accountable for the injuries and deaths that their employees cause. And what do we have the auto manufacturers doing? The auto industry is going full bore ahead with installing more distracting devices such as Wi-Fi equipped vehicles which are enabled for Facebook, Twitter, etc.

The Chronicle reported this week that auto manufacturers are moving quickly ahead to equip their vehicles with Wi-Fi. Volkswagen’s Audi brand was the first to offer Wi-Fi access in their vehicles. Now Nissan Motor Co. General Motors, Co., and Ford Motor Co. are going forward with similar systems. Needless to say the U.S. Transportation Secretary is horrified by this trend. Secretary Ray LaHood is pursuing strict guidelines to quell in-dash distractions behind the wheel. The Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Chairman Deborah Hersman, was likewise appalled. She stated, “If the auto manufacturers focused as much on safety as they do on marketing their products, we would save a lot of lives.”

As an Alameda personal injury, unfortunately this is a theme that I see repeated over an over- Corporations putting profits above safety. If the little city of Fort Lee recognizes the distractions that texting can cause, why don’t the big auto manufacturers? I don’t think its too hard to come up with the answer.

Resources:

Employees use of cellphones while driving becomes a liability for companies, Washington Post, May 20, 2012
Texting While Walking Banned in New Jersey Town, ABC News, May 13, 2012
Carmakers add Wi-Fi, Facebook, other tech features, SFGate, May 20, 2012

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