Articles Posted in Distracted Driving

Pedestrian deaths around the country rose sharply last year, according to data compiled by the Governors Highway Safety Association and recently published by CityLab, a blog that is part of The Atlantic magazine. The news is troubling, and perhaps even a little counter-intuitive and should prompt officials at every level to look more closely with how we design our roads and streets.

The group “estimates that the number of pedestrians killed in traffic increased 10 percent from 2014 to 2015 in the US. That number, based on preliminary data reported by all 50 states and the District of Columbia, is in line with a longer-term trend: From 2009 to 2014, pedestrian fatalities increased by 19 percent, even as total traffic deaths declined over that same period.”

According to the GHSA the highest pedestrian fatality rate is 3.55 per 100,000 people in New Mexico. Minnesota is the safest state for pedestrians with only 0.27 fatalities per 100,000. Oregon, at 1.44, comes in a little better than the national average of 1.53 while Washington State is significantly better at 1.06. (all figures are for 2014)

I have often written about the fact that we tend to think of distracted driving as something that teens and 20-somethings are especially prone to, despite a growing body of evidence identifying this as a problem that affects every age group.

The latest reminder that this is not just a young person’s issue comes from Greenhouse Management magazine. Under the headline “It Can Wait – Even the Job” the magazine offers some pointed advice: “business owners, CEOs, managers and other figures in the corporate world are slower on the uptake than they should be” at a time when for many of us the demands of the office are such that “daily tasks, such as driving to work, can easily become an afterthought when an important call, text or email comes in.”

The article also raises an noteworthy legal point: “Although it is commonly assumed that employees using personal cellphones in their personal vehicles are liable to nobody but themselves in the event of a crash, (President of consulting firm OperationsInc David) Lewis said the argument could be made that employers are responsible for how and when their employees take and return business calls and messages.” As an Oregon distracted driving lawyer I agree with this analysis. It is a basic principle of law that employers are responsible for what employees do during the course and scope of their jobs.

A study recently released by the Oregon Department of Transportation appears to show that careful and comprehensive education efforts can have a significant impact on distracted driving, according to a recent report by Bend TV station KTVZ. The station quotes an ODOT report finding that “a coordinated high-visibility campaign in Bend aimed at reducing distracted driving had a significant impact on raising awareness of the importance of not texting/talking while driving.”

According to the TV station, the study was co-sponsored by the ODOT, Portland State University and Bend’s police department. “The report shows, among other findings, that almost 12 percent of people who were exposed to the “U Drive, U Text, U Pay” message reduced their texting-while-driving activity,” KTVZ reports.

Considering that the tagline of the campaign focused on money – the fines drivers can receive if they violate Oregon’s distracted driving laws – it is especially noteworthy that the study found that “the most common reason for respondents decreasing their texting-while-driving was ‘increased awareness of safety.’” This reason was cited by 30 percent of the drivers studied. In other words: while the campaign slogan focuses on drivers’ wallets the program was successful because it helped convince Oregon drivers that safety issues come first.

The latest phase of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s long running investigation of distracted driving and its causes highlights some potentially disturbing issues, according to a recent article published by MyCentralOregon.com. As the website notes, “the results raise new and unexpected concerns regarding the use of phones and vehicle information systems while driving.”

Specifically, the study challenges the common assumption that switching to hands-free devices solves most distracted driving problems. According to the website, the study concluded that “potentially unsafe mental distractions can persist after a driver dials, changes music or sends a text using voice commands on a voice-activated system.” Especially interesting is the focus on things we do not usually think of when we use the term “distracted driving,” such as using a car’s music or navigation systems.

More critical, however, is the discovery that distracted problems go far beyond cellphones, and cannot be solved simply by switching to headsets, in part because the distraction these devices create lingers even after one’s attention returns to driving.

The Oregonian this week reported on a guilty plea by a 24-year-old Gresham woman in an Oregon distracted driving case that encapsulates everything that is wrong with this growing problem.

According to the newspaper, the defendant admitted to “taking cellphone video of her child when she crashed into three teens outside their high school in January.” The three 14 and 15-year-old girls “sustained skull, pelvis and knee fractures” according to the paper, as well as “a broken nose, concussion and a lost tooth, and… a torn ACL and a concussion, court documents said.”

“Investigators found a 19-second clip on (the driver’s) phone that showed her hands off the wheel just before she plowed into the teens in the crosswalk, court documents said. She appeared to be holding the phone in her left hand and making gestures with her right hand at her son sitting in the back seat. Phone records show she had also been texting before the crash,” the Oregonian writes.

A summer marked by low gas prices has led to a jump in the number of miles Americans are driving. Unfortunately, it also appears to be leading to a significant increase in traffic deaths, according to a recent Yahoo! News article.

“The National Safety Council reported this week that traffic deaths and serious injuries in the US are on a pace to rise for the first time in nearly a decade. If the trend for the first six months of this year continues, the NSC says traffic fatalities in the nation will exceed 40,000 for the first time since 2007 and deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled will also increase,” the news service reports. The key lies in the last part of that sentence – indicating that the number of on-road deaths is not merely a function of the greater number of miles being driven. The article notes that when compared to 2007 the number of mile Americans drive has increased by 3.4% but in the first six months of 2015 alone the number of traffic fatalities has jumped by 14%.

According to the article a number of factors contribute to this – such as higher speed limits – but one might also think that the steadily improving safety gear in modern cars and trucks would, at least to some extent, mitigate that. The big thing that has changed for the worse, according to the study, is the steady rise in distracted driving in general and cellphone use in particular despite laws and educational campaigns here in Oregon and elsewhere designed to curb the practice. From a legal perspective this is especially significant since it, in turn, means that an increasingly large number of drivers are placing themselves at risk of wrongful death charges in the event of an accident.

We tend to think of distracted driving as something involving cellphones or, perhaps, overuse of a GPS or an in-dash entertainment system, but an Oregon bus accident this week offers a strong reminder of just how broad the term actually is.

According to a report in The Oregonian “the driver of a shuttle bus that crashed Saturday morning on Interstate 5 near Woodburn was trying to retrieve a water bottle when he lost control” of the vehicle. The accident occurred near milepost 269 in I-5’s southbound lane. The 35-person bus had only two passengers in addition to the 72-year-old driver, according to the paper. All three people suffered minor injuries when the bus “crossed the center median, broke a cable barrier, crossed the northbound lanes, went off the road and rolled onto the driver’s side.”

The bus hit a car as it crossed the northbound interstate but no one in that vehicle was injured. Two northbound lanes of the highway were closed “for several hours,” The Oregonian reports.

Last week the New York Times published a long article looking at a number of so-called ‘heads-up’ technologies making their way toward commercial use in the auto industry. All of the technologies described in the article involve projecting information onto a car’s windshield so that it appears to be ‘floating’ just ahead of the car. The companies designing these systems tout them as cutting-edge tools in the fight against distracted driving, but the article makes a strong case that for many drivers there is a high probability the heads-up technology will make things worse.

Accompanying the article is a screen shot from a video promoting one of the new companies. The still image shows the driver’s hands on the steering wheel as the car enters a sharp bend to the left. Projected into the driver’s line of sight are both an animated image of the car and the road, and a photo of the driver’s mother as he takes a phone call from her. The device allows the phone to be answered with a wave of the driver’s hand.

The idea that these devices will make driving safer boils down to the contention that by keeping drivers looking up and ahead they reduce the distraction of cellphones, in-dash navigation systems, and even the dashboard itself (since the devices can display things like speed and gas level). “The argument… boils down to a simple notion: Drivers are going to do it anyway, so why not minimize the riskiest kinds of multitasking, like looking down at the phone or handling it” according to the Times.

A recently published Oregon State University study demonstrates dramatically that interactive efforts to educate teens about the dangers of distracted driving are far more successful than passive efforts. However, the study also showed that among younger drivers the problem is just as serious as anecdotal evidence would suggest, and that the focus on texting may be diluting the larger message about the risks of Oregon distracted driving.

According to a summary published by EurekAlert, a PR website, the OSU study found that “while many young drivers understand the risks of texting… they are much less aware of other concerns that can be real – eating, drinking, talking on a cell phone, smoking, adjusting the radio, changing a CD, using a digital map and other controls.” The article adds that in addition to a lack of experience behind the wheel “young drivers also have a higher risk tolerance, use seat belts less and choose higher speeds.”

These findings are, perhaps, unsurprising (though the finding that “27 percent of respondents changed clothes or shoes while driving” was a bit eyebrow-raising), but it is good to see data backing up what many people have long believed based on anecdotal observation. The highlight of the study is its conclusion that young drivers react best to safety training that is “interactive” – training that requires young people to do something rather than simply passively watching a film or listening to a lecture. Interactive training, the study found, was far more effective in reinforcing both the importance of safe driving habits and the bad habits which everyone should avoid.

The Oregonian is reporting that an arrest has been made in one of the most egregious Oregon distracted driving cases in recent memory. According to the newspaper, a 23-year-old Gresham woman is now under arrest after “taking video on her cellphone when she drove into three teens in a crosswalk outside their high school.”

Further investigation showed that at the time of the Oregon pedestrian accident the driver did not have her hands on the steering wheel. Perhaps even more shocking is the revelation that the driver appears to have been taking a video of her own son at the time of the accident. “A 19-second-long clip… shows the 23-year-old with the device in her left hand and making gestures at her son in the back seat with her right hand just before she hits three girls outside Centennial High School on Jan. 15,” the paper reports.

According to the newspaper “the three injured girls, between 14 and 15-years-old, survived the crash” though all three were seriously injured. The accident took place in January and The Oregonian reports that the driver remained at the scene of the accident and cooperated with law enforcement. She has now been charged with “third-degree assault, reckless endangering and reckless driving.” Witnesses reported the driver was traveling at nearly 40 miles per hour when she struck the three pedestrians.

50 SW Pine St 3rd Floor Portland, OR 97204 Telephone: (503) 226-3844 Fax: (503) 943-6670 Email: matthew@mdkaplanlaw.com
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