Truck Driver Distraction Due to Electronic Devices
The risk of motor vehicles crashes increases 23 times when drivers are texting while driving. Nearly 80% of crashes, and 65% of near-crashes, involved some form of driver inattention, such as cell phone use and drowsiness, within three seconds before the event. Texting drivers took their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, this equates to a driver traveling the approximate length of a football field — without looking at the road. For drivers who dial a mobile phone while driving, the odds of being involved in a safety-critical event are six times greater than for those who do not. Those are findings of a study sponsored by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Virginia Tech.
Partly as a result of this study, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued new regulations to guard against distracted driving.
Commercial motor vehicle drivers are prohibited from texting while driving. Texting means manually entering alphanumeric text into, or reading text from, an electronic device. This includes, but is not limited to, short message service, e-mailing, instant messaging, a command or request to access a Web page, or pressing more than a single button to initiate or terminate a voice communication using a mobile phone or engaging in any other form of electronic text retrieval or entry, for present or future communication.
Commercial motor vehicle drivers are similarly barred from reaching for or holding a mobile phone to conduct a voice communication, as well as dialing by pressing more than a single button. CMV drivers who use a mobile phone while driving can only operate a hands-free phone located in close proximity. In short, the rule prohibits unsafely reaching for a device, holding a mobile phone, or pressing multiple buttons.
The potential for driver distraction continues to grow with technology. The inside of a truck cab offers more electronics and gadgets than ever before. A trucker can monitor how his truck and engine are performing, GPS mapping to stay on the right route, email communications with his dispatcher, cell phone conversations with family, and perhaps a reckless few play a movie or surf the web while driving.
In auto and truck accident litigation, we have become diligent about discovery of cell phone and text messaging records. With heightened sophistication about electronic discovery, this will be an increasingly significant factor in lawsuits.
There are at least three potential uses of cell and text evidence:
- The defendant's cell phone and text usage while driving may be considered as "conscious indifference to consequences" sufficient to support an award of punitive damages, similar to drunk driving, and perhaps “bad faith in the transaction” to support a claim for attorney fees and expenses of litigation under Georgia law.
- The plaintiff's cell phone usage at the time of the incident may be used as comparative negligence evidence to reduce or eliminate a damages award.
- If the evidence reveals that a defendant driver was communicating with an employer or to a customer on the employer's business while driving a personal vehicle, that may provide a missing link to the employer’s insurance coverage.