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Feds ask phone makers to stop functions while users drive

Late last month, government officials for highway safety asked smart phone makers such as Apple and Samsung to shut down functions like camera apps and manual text entry when they detect the user is in motion. Although the guidelines proposed by the feds are voluntary, they aim to curb the surge in deaths on U.S. highways due to distracted driving.

Can we prevent thousands of deaths per year?

There were an estimated 3,500 deaths on U.S. highways last year that were directly connected to distracted driving. Numerous advocacy groups have criticized the lack of government regulation for the continuing problem. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the new guidelines will require phone makers to create a "driver mode" that will only allow certain functions while it detects the user is moving. As a notable exception, maps will still be allowed for users to navigate.

However, the Consumer Technology Commission, whose members include Apple and Samsung, says the government guidelines are too extreme and would stop innovations that would help drivers make better decisions, preventing product improvements from coming to market. CITA, a group which includes AT&T and Verizon, says, similarly, that regulation on their technologies is an overreach and a bad approach for consumers.

Distracted driving is a deadly problem

Deaths on U.S. highways rose to a 50-year high last year, to 35,092, which represents a 7.2 percent increase. Although some of this increase can be attributed to more people driving, other causes include drunk driving, speeding and smart phone and other device distractions. Also last year, distracted driving deaths represented 10 percent of road fatalities, which is an 8.8 percent increase from 2014.

Short of being able to ban phones in the car or broadly involve everyone in efforts to curb device usage while driving -- including the tech companies, automakers, consumers and government officials -- our epidemic amount of road deaths due to distracted driving may even rise when 2016's data comes in.

What we can do now

Drivers can take responsibility for stopping the increase in traffic deaths due to distracted driving. Some simple tips include:

  • Sending texts, finishing conversations, or setting music or GPS directions before driving. Don't try to finish something while you're merging onto the highway. Give it your full attention beforehand.
  • Put your phone on silent or place it in the glove compartment, a bag or another area out of your reach so that you can't instinctively grab it. Some people cannot ignore the ding or red symbol of a notification, so it's important to stop yourself from noticing it or being able to react to it immediately.
  • If you must check your phone or take that call, make sure you carefully and safely exit the highway or leave a busy road. Once fully pulled over, conduct your business and only get back on the road when you're done.
  • If you have a passenger, make sure they can take calls, reply to messages or man the GPS and maps so you don't have to. And be willing as a passenger to do the same for someone else when they're driving.

Just a few seconds of distraction can lead to catastrophic injury or death behind the wheel. Take it upon yourself to stop distracted driving, and encourage others to do the same.

If you or a loved one's life has been impacted by a distracted driving accident, reach out to an experienced lawyer right away. You could be entitled to compensation for damages including lost wages, medical bills and more.

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