According to government researchers, as many as 660,000 people are driving distracted at any given moment as a result of using their cell phones or other electronic devices. In 2013, figures revealed that 3,154 people were killed as result of distracted driving, and another 424,000 were injured in motor vehicle collisions. Some researchers have suggested that as many as 18 percent of all traffic accidents are the result of distracted driving.
While these factors are disconcerting enough, when one considers the implications of distracted driving caused by electronic devices among operators of tractor-trailers, the concerns become even more alarming. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which regulates many aspects of the trucking industry, released a regulation in 2010 to address some of these concerns.
The FMCSA stated in its Summary of its regulation, now included in 49 CFR Parts 383, 384, 390, 391 and 392): “Recent research commission by FMCSA shows that the odds of being involved in a safety-critical event (e.g., crash, near-crash, unintentional lane deviation) is 23.2 times greater for CMV drivers who engage in texting while driving than for those who do not.” Per the FMCSA regulation, texting while operating a tractor-trailer can result in significant fines and loss of CMV driving privileges. The company can also be fined under appropriate circumstances.
Unfortunately, this regulation does not go far enough. Nancy Grugle, Ph.D., a forensic human factors expert, describes “distracted driving” thusly: “In general, distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention away from activities critical for safe driving. Driving distractions can be categorized into three main areas: visual manual, and cognitive. Visual distractions are objects that take the driver’s visual attention away from the road and driving environment. Manual distractions are objects that take a driver’s hands off the wheel. Cognitive distraction involves a driver using their brain to process information not related to the driving task. Many distractions require visual, manual, and cognitive resources all at the same time, which is the riskiest type of distraction.” Dr. Grugle notes that “[c]ognitive distraction can last up to 27 seconds after using voice-activated technology.”
In other words, while texting seems to be the most hazardous of these activities, voice-activated technology (such as speaking a text message) is also dangerous. Talking on cell phones has also been shown to increase the risks of an accident as well. Many trucking companies have policies precluding the use of cell phones while driving tractor-trailers. Providing detailed regulations about when use of cell phones and other electronic devices may be appropriate and safe would assist in stopping these hazardous practices in big rigs. If you need more information on anything mentioned above, contact Mike Crow, Julie Beasley or Chris Glover, lawyers in our Personal Injury/Product Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Mike.Crow@beasleyallen.com, Julie.Beasley@beasleyallen.com or Chris.Glover@beasleyallen.com.
Sources: Nancy Grugle, Ph.D., The Epidemic of Distracted Driving – Expert Presentation, Robson Forensic (Nov. 16, 2015) and Vol. 75 Federal Register, No. 186 at p. 59118 (Sept. 27, 2010).
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