Drinking and driving has long been an issue. As Justice Alito put it in Birchfield v. North Dakota, "[t]he problem of drunk driving arose almost as soon as motor vehicles came into use." The first law that made it illegal to drive while under the influence was passed in 1906 in New Jersey. Other states followed suit and the rules evolved to what we know today. While drunk drivers continue to endanger those on the roads to this day, another issue has become an increasing problem in recent years -- distracted driving.
Since their introduction, smartphone use has steadily become more popular. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center report, 64% of adults in the U.S. own a smartphone. This was a significant increase from 2011, when only 35% of adults owned these devices. Though useful for keeping up with email, texting loved ones, and updating social media, none of these tasks should be done while operating a motor vehicle. However, many Americans do use their smartphones while behind the wheel. According to research from AT&T, "7-in-10 people engage in smartphone activities while driving." The telecommunications company found that, while driving, 4 in 10 users will use social media, 3 in 10 browse the internet, and 1 in 10 will even video chat. In fact, "[a]t any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving."
Distracted driving causes a number of injuries and deaths each year. Distracted driving is a term that is often used to refer to cell phone use while driving but does include other activities such as adjusting the radio dial or eating. The Department of Transportation estimated that, "[i]n 2014, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers." To combat this problem, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently proposed that cell phones have a "driving-safe mode." The Guardian reported that the idea is that this mode "would block or modify apps to prevent them being a distraction while on the road."
The NHTSA is going to issue guidelines for companies that make smartphones. These guidelines will be voluntary and it will be up to each company whether or not to adopt them. The agency is hoping that a drive-safe mode will be adopted similar to the way airplane mode was. According to The Guardian, the "driving mode will block distractions such as social media, messages or email, stop the use of the keyboard for communication activities and also restrict access to websites, video and distracting graphics." In addition, the NHTSA guidelines will call for features that only restrict the driver's usage and permits passengers to use their phones like normal. They also want there to be "a connection between smartphones and in-car controls such as steering wheel buttons, to remove the need to interact with the screen."
Only time will tell if cell phones companies adopt any or all of the proposed guidelines from the NHTSA. In the meantime, the best way to avoid causing an accident on the road is to stay off your phone while behind the wheel.
DeKalb County DUI Atttorney Richard Lawson is a criminal defense attorney in Georgia. If you are have been charged with driving under the influence, contact his office today.