According to data published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving is an ever-growing problem in the United States. The percentage of people injured in accidents involving distracted drivers increased by 9 percent between 2011 and 2012, and many observers blame this trend on the growing popularity and availability of personal electronic devices such as smart phones. To combat this issue, many states (Texas included) have enacted laws that limit cell phone use by drivers.
While these regulations may be a step in the right direction, a new potential source of driver distraction has been gaining popularity in the form of in-car infotainment systems. “Infotainment” refers to a mix of information and entertainment, and newer vehicles are being outfitted with touchscreen systems that offer internet connectivity as well as connectivity with a driver’s other devices, such as smart phones and tablets. While these systems perform some necessary functions such as climate control and monitoring of a vehicle’s systems, they also have the potential to provide ancillary functionality that may significantly distract drivers. These systems have the potential to access third party apps and even browse the internet, which even the most capable multi-tasker would likely agree to be an unnecessary and dangerous distraction to drivers.
Guidelines (not laws) for Automakers
Regulators are certainly taking notice of these new technologies. In 2012, NHTSA issued proposed guidelines for automakers in regard to infotainment systems. Among the proposed guidelines were the following suggestions:
- Reducing device complexity and task length
- Limiting operation to one hand only
- Limiting the time a driver is required to look at a device to two seconds
- Limiting unnecessary information in a driver’s field of view
- Limiting the manual inputs required for device operation
In addition, NHTSA would have automakers lock drivers out of functions such as text messaging or internet browsing unless the vehicle is in park.
Sue the Automaker or the Person Who Crashed Into You?
Regardless of whether these proposed guidelines are adopted, it is a near certainty that litigation regarding car accidents involving infotainment systems is on the horizon. The more simple class of cases will likely involve victims of car accidents who allege that another driver was distracted by his or her infotainment system and caused an accident as a result. Another possibility is drivers suing car manufacturers for placing unreasonably distracting devices in their vehicles. In either case, it is important that victims discuss their circumstances of their accident with a personal injury lawyer as soon as they can after an accident occurs.