We have all seen drivers distracted by their electronic devices behind the wheel. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations now forbid interstate truck drivers from texting or talking on a hand held cell phone while driving. But recently we were hired in a multiple fatality crash on a Georgia interstate highway in which the truck driver admitted to police that he did not see the vehicles he hit because he was distracted by talking on his cell phone.
In January 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board released its 2014 Most Wanted List, the top 10 advocacy and awareness priorities for the agency for 2014, which include improving operational safety on mass transit, impaired driving, and distracted driving.
Included in this “top 10” list is to treat distracted driving like drunk driving. Accident investigations and safety studies conducted by the NTSB in all modes of transportation underscore the dangers of using portable electronic devices while operating a car, train, plane or marine vessel. It is the hope of the NTSB that all instances of distracted driving will be treated in the same manner as driving under the influence. In addition to banning the use of these devices while driving the NTSB will continue education and company policies to help reinforce laws and regulations by explaining the dangers of distraction and what companies expect from their employees.
Occupant protection is also new to the Most Wanted list for 2014. While preventing accidents is always the goal, the NTSB says saving lives and reducing injuries in the event of an accident is also critical. Increasing the use of available occupant protection systems and improving crashworthiness to preserve survivable space can mean the difference between life and death.
Also new to the list this year is passenger vessel safety. Between 2000 and 2010, the NTSB has investigated several accidents involving passenger vessels. For decades, NTSB accident investigations involving passenger vessels revealed in numerous cases that the cause of an accident was not the failure of the vessel but the lack of good safety practices that led to the loss of life and injuries. It is the hopes of the NTSB that when these new safety measures are put into action there will be far fewer fatalities in the nation.
Ken Shigley is past president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12), double board certified in Civil Trial Advocacy and Civil Pretrial Advocacy by the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification, and lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice. His Atlanta-based civil trial practice is focused on representation of plaintiffs in cases of castastrophic personal injury and wrongful death.