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Fatal crash raises questions about definition of 'hands-free'

Because of one driver's decision to drive while distracted, more than 3,000 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2014 alone, according to data provided by distraction.gov. Sadly, one of those deaths included a 5-year-old girl who is now at the center of an important wrongful death lawsuit.

Filed this year against technology giant Apple, the wrongful death lawsuit seeks damages for a distracted driving crash that occurred in 2014 when a 21-year-old driver slammed into another vehicle, killing the 5-year-old girl. As a recent CIO article explains, the girl's parents are holding Apple partially responsible for the crash, pointing out that the tech company could have implemented a "lock out" feature for which Apple had requested a patent in 2008.

Texting and driving vs. talking and driving

As you probably already know, Georgia and a number of other states have adopted laws to reduce distracted driving accidents by banning the use of cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. While a majority of bans specifically prohibit drivers from texting, reading and writing emails and using applications that force a driver's eyes to avert from the road, some laws, like House Bill 10 here in Georgia, allow certain drivers to use wireless devices in a hands-free manner. Unfortunately, herein lies the conflict.

As reports indicate, the at-fault driver in the 2014 crash was using FaceTime at the time, not texting and driving. Although some may argue that FaceTime is a hands-free feature on cellphones, it can be just as distracting as a text message or email because it forces a driver's eyes away from the road.

Under the new wording of H.B. 10, FaceTime falls in a gray area that easily puts people at risk of serious injury or death in a collision. As a result, lawmakers need to ask themselves an important question:

Should the definition of hands-free be further refined to account for applications that are both hands-free but can be just as distracting as texting?

It's a question we hope is addressed sooner rather than later because any death due to negligence is a tragedy. 

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