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Increase in Highway Deaths Prompts Call for Cell Phone Ban

Posted By Haggerty, Goldberg, Schleifer & Kupersmith, P.C.

It is well known that distracted driving has become one of the most prominent
dangers on our public roads and highways. In fact, driver distraction
has become such a pervasive problem that the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration (NHTSA), has gone as far as calling it a national
epidemic – and for good reason. NHTSA reports that hundreds of thousands
of preventable injuries and deaths directly result from drivers who were
distracted at the time of an auto accident. That’s something to
consider this month, as April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Although the problem has been identified and studied and addressed by legislators
in many states, distracted driving still claims the lives of numerous
victims each year. What’s more, highway deaths in the U.S. are continuing
to rise at an alarming rate, largely as a result of distracted driving.
In 2016 alone, the U.S. saw a 6% spike in highway deaths from the previous
year (42,000 deaths), and a 14% surge in fatalities since 2014 –
the largest two-year increase since 1964.

The alarming data has prompted many to speak out about our general complacency
in allowing distracted driving to continue killing innocent victims. According
to advocates, large and consistent spikes and over 40,000 annual deaths
cannot become the new normal, and aggressive measures – similar
to those taken to address drunk driving – need to be taken when
it comes to preventing driver distraction.

To address the problem, experts and advocates are pushing for tougher bans
on texting and cell phone use behind the wheel. Currently, states have
the ability to regulate cell phone use behind the wheel, and most do.
However, not all states have similar laws, with some permitting cell phone
use by non-novice and non-commercial drivers or allowing motorists to
use hands-free devices. The problem, however, is that hands-free does
not mean risk free. Additionally, many of these distracted driving laws
are secondary laws, meaning that police cannot ticket drivers for a distracted
driving offense unless the driver also commits some other traffic infraction.

Here’s the current law on distracted driving in Pennsylvania:

  • Texting ban – Pennsylvania prohibits text messaging for all drivers
    while a vehicle is in motion. The law also prohibits instant messaging,
    emails, and browsing the internet. As a primary offense, motorists can
    be fined $50 for a first offense, plus additional fees, that can increase
    with subsequent offenses.

Unfortunately, there are no current statewide laws prohibiting the use
of cell phones to place calls, either hand held or hands-free. The texting
ban has also received criticism for being difficult to enforce, as motorists
can legally enter numbers into a phone. Ultimately, current state laws
fall short in protecting the public against the substantial risks posed
by distracted driver.

Cell phone use, including text messaging, is considered the most dangerous
form of distracted driving for the sole reason that it commands a driver’s
cognitive, visual, and manual attention all at once – a dangerous
combination for someone behind the wheel of a large vehicle traveling
at high speeds. By passing tougher laws to prohibit all cell phone use
behind the wheel and enforcing those laws, it may be possible to make
a dent in the rising number of roadway deaths that occur throughout the
country each year. Still, the largest hurdle may be changing our society’s
constant attachment to cell phones and educating the public about the
importance of waiting to use a phone until one is safely off the road.

Although there is much work to be done when it comes to legislation and
public awareness, victims who are harmed in
car accidents caused by distracted drivers still have the right to hold them accountable
for their negligence and liable for the damages incurred as a result of
their injuries. These damages can include medical expenses, wage losses
from missing work, mental anguish, and physical pain and suffering, among
others. Distracted driving may or may not always be explicitly illegal,
but it is certainly negligent and a reason for increased crash risks.

At Haggerty, Goldberg, Schleifer & Kupersmith, P.C., our Philadelphia
car accident lawyers are readily available to fight on behalf of victims
who have been harmed by the negligence of others. Over the years, our
attorneys have leveraged decades of combined experience to recover millions
of dollars in compensation for injured victims throughout Eastern Pennsylvania.
In every case we handle, we place a priority on personal attention and
fighting for the maximum compensation possible.

If you wish to discuss a potential case with a member of our legal team,
contact us for a FREE consultation.