Can Cell Phone Apps Cause Car Accidents?

Posted on: July 26, 2021

Driving while talking with passengers, grooming, eating, or changing the radio station are all behaviors that are common while operating a motor vehicle.  Each is a distraction that results in a driver taking their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, and/or mind off driving.  So many of these behaviors have become commonplace.  Drivers do not always appreciate the seriousness of distracted driving, a common cause of car accidents

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been gathering data on distracted driving and car accidents. and its findings are disturbing. In a recent year, the agency reported 3,142 car accident fatalities associated with a distracted driver. Although driving while intoxicated by alcohol or under the influence of certain drugs can be considered a form of distracted driving, the NHTSA reports these statistics separately.  In 2019, the incidence of drunk driving reached an all-time low since the NHTSA began collecting data in 1982.  Yet, in that year, over 10,000 fatalities involved drunk driving. Distracted driving of all kinds is clearly a persistent and dangerous problem. 

Cell Phone Distractions

Every activity that is distracting increases the risk of being in a car accident.  However, use of cell phones while driving has become one of the most prominent.  Texting while driving is especially dangerous because it involves distracting the attention of the eyes, hands, and mind, all at the same time.  Sending or reading a text takes the eyes off the road for about five seconds.  Texting while driving a car 55 miles per hour is like driving the length of an entire football field with eyes closed. 

Is Using Apps While Driving Dangerous?

App use is a new addition to the distracted driving problem.  Drivers use cell phones not only to make calls or text.  Now they use various applications (apps) on the phone while driving.  Using an app such as Google Maps while driving to get directions using a global positioning system (GPS) is understandable, yet it can also be dangerous.  The risks versus benefits of this type of app can be debated. 

Young drivers are more prone to making driving errors when using apps while driving.  Generally, they have not had time to develop their driving skills. Young drivers use cell phone apps while driving as a form of entertainment with tragic results. 

What are Pokemon Go and Snapchat?

Pokemon Go is an app based on popular Japanese video games and trading cards featuring cartoon characters that battle one another.  The app is an augmented reality game made for smartphones that uses the phones camera and GPS to display Pokemon characters in real life around the player.  It sets up PokeStops where characters congregate to draw players to these locations.

Pokemon Go was at first lauded as increasing exercise and interactive play among school-aged children and young adults.  It then morphed into a safety concern with players being ambushed in remote locations where rare Pokemon characters were programmed to dwell.  The danger accelerated as app users played the game while driving. 

A recent Purdue University study investigating the incidence of car accidents in a county in Indiana found an interesting correlation between the release of the Pokemon Go app and incidents of accidents.  Researchers found that traffic accidents increased by 28 percent at PokeStops.  The increase represented an increase in total traffic crashes by 47 percent.  In many instances, police reports of crashes did not indicate the cause of the accident.  So, the correlation did not rise to the level of causation. Yet, the study showed app use while driving could be a serious safety issue.

Snapchat is another popular app frequently used by teenagers. It is most often used to create so-called snaps, which are photos or brief videos of the user.  The app contains various filters that can edit selfies adding different coloring, designs, themes, captions, and more. 

One Snapchat feature called Speed Filter allowed users to capture how fast they are moving and share it with friends.  Some believe the filter has been responsible for car accidents.  Victims have sued the app developer for damages they believe resulted from their loved ones using the speed filter app while driving. In one case, three young Wisconsin teenagers clocked a speed of 123 miles per hour before crashing into a tree.  All three teens died in the accident.

Changes in the speed filter happened over time, including lowering its prominence in the app, adding a Don’t Snap and Drive warning, and capping the top speed to use the app at 35 mph.  Ultimately, the company removed the app altogether, claiming it was removed for lack of use.

Technology has been developed on cell phones that can disable use of texting and app functions while driving.  However, this function can be disabled at the option of the driver and is easily overridden.  Other options for minimizing cell phone use while driving are needed to reduce the incidence of car accidents from distracted drivers.

Government Efforts to Address Distracted Driving

Governments at the federal, state, and local level are all grappling with how to reduce distracted driving and the resulting accidents.  In 2009, President Obama signed an executive order banning all federal employees from texting while driving government-owned vehicles or when driving privately owned vehicles on official government business.  Next, some federal agencies banned cell phone use while driving.  In 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration banned hand-held cell phone use by commercial drivers and drivers carrying hazardous materials. 

Today, nearly every state has banned texting while driving as well as limiting cell phone use. In New Jersey, use of cell phones while driving is banned unless the phone is used hands-free.  A first violation carries a minimum fine of $200.00.  In Pennsylvania, use of cell phones while driving to send or receive texts, emails, or messages of any kind is illegal.  Violators are fined $50.00.

Approaches to Changing Distracted Driving Behavior

The NHTSA has waged numerous campaigns and broadcast public service announcements to inform the driving public about the risks of distracted driving.  Its U Drive. U Text. U Pay campaign began in 2014 to warn drivers that texting while driving is hazardous and enforcement actions against texting were stepping up.  This was accompanied by a high-visibility enforcement media campaign to warn about the dangers of cell phone use while driving and encouraging compliance. The campaign has been renewed each year since 2014 in April.

The NHTSA has also issued voluntary guidelines to promote safety by discouraging use of distracting original in-vehicle and portable/aftermarket electronic devices in vehicles. 

In addition, the NHTSA suggests drivers take precautions to minimize or eliminate texting while driving behaviors such as storing cell phones in the trunk while driving or selecting a designated texter, other than the driver, when traveling in groups. 

Young Drivers are Disproportionately Affected

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported sobering statistics on distracted driving accidents involving young drivers.  It found adults 20 to 29 years old accounted for 25 percent of fatal accidents involving distracted driving.  Among teenagers involved in fatal crashes, eight percent were distracted at the time of the accident.

The efforts to stop texting and/or app use while driving need to be effective with the most at-risk drivers, who are young.  To that end, the NHTSA encourages peers, parents, and educators to play a part in encouraging good behavior and preventing distracted driving.  Consistent messaging and modeling good behavior can go a long way in reducing risky use of cell phone apps and/or texting. 

Hazlet Car Accident Lawyers at Mikita & Roccanova Protect the Rights of Those Injured in Car Accidents

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, reach out to the Hazlet car accident lawyers at Mikita & Roccanova. We will help you understand your legal rights to recover compensation after a serious car accident, and we will fight to protect those rights. Call us at 732-705-3363 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Hazlet and Highland Park, New Jersey, we serve clients in Ocean County and Sussex County, and Pennsylvania.