In 2001, New York became the first state to implement a law prohibiting all drivers from talking on their cellphone while driving. In 2007, Washington became the first state to ban texting while driving.
Today, with the oversaturation of smartphones in our country, we see more and more articles like this:
Maplewood woman crashes after watching Netflix while driving 70 mph
Uber driver was watching ‘The Voice’ when her self-driving SUV hit a woman in Arizona
With long commutes and traffic woes, it’s understandable why streaming a movie or TV show on our drive sounds incredibly appealing; it helps pass the time and relieve boredom, much like podcasts or audiobooks. The difference is that audio-only forms of entertainment leave your eyes completely free to watch the road — as they should.
According to police records from the second article mentioned above, the Uber driver spent almost 7 minutes with her head down out of the 22 minute car ride. And the fact that this “accident” was caused from a self-driving car is even more alarming — imagine someone driving their car manually with their eyes off of the road for more than 30% of the drive.
Recently, Elon Musk, CEO of the “infamous” self-driving vehicle company, Tesla, announced that when “full self-driving is approved by regulators, we will enable video while moving.” Let’s hope that by the time that innovation comes around, our self-driving cars will be smart enough to avoid any and all pedestrian injuries and fatalities.
Where is this legal?
Here are the current legalities regarding cellphone use in the U.S.:
- No state bans all cellphone use for all drivers
- 20 states do prohibit drivers from using hand-held devices while driving
- 48 states prohibit text messaging for all drivers (all but Missouri and Montana)
While there isn’t sweeping legislation about streaming videos while driving, Georgia is heading in the right direction. On July 1st, 2018, Georgia passed a new law that would prohibit drivers from streaming video on their phones while they drive. As more and more states do this, we should expect distracted driving fatalities to decrease over time.
How can it be proved you were watching something during an accident?
Police are able to obtain cellphone records to analyze the driver’s usage at the time of an accident. In that case with the Uber driver, the authorities determined that she was not impaired while driving, so they issued search warrants for her two cellphones to see if distracted driving was at play.
It was then determined that she had been using YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu on her phone. After serving warrants to Netflix and Google (which owns YouTube and Hulu), Hulu confirmed that the account linked to the driver was streaming an episode of The Voice until the time of the crash.
Cellphone data is rich in detail and well-documented, making distracted driver lawsuits easier to prove than ever before.
The next time you want to stream Independence Day on your phone while driving to your favorite park on the 4th of July (which is already one of America’s deadliest days for drivers), think of the enormous risk you’re taking for such a little reward.