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New York's hands-free law may not make the roads any safer

Using a hand-held mobile phone or other electronic device while behind the wheel is prohibited in New York, and those who violate this law can be fined as much as $450. Drivers in the Empire State who wish to make phone calls or send text messages are permitted to do so providing that they use a device that allows them to keep their hands on the wheel, but a study from The University of Texas suggests that hands-free features may not actually make cellphones any safer for motorists to use.

To find out whether or not hands-free devices are safer to use behind the wheel, the researchers gave 20 campus volunteers a standard cellphone and a Google Glass device. Google's wearable device was chosen because it projects text messages onto what looks like a pair of eyeglasses. This means that motorists can read text messages while keeping their eyes on the road and their hands on the steering wheel. The volunteers were then placed in an advanced driving simulator to see how using the two devices affected their driving.

The research team was surprised to learn that the safety benefits of hands-free electronic devices were temporary. They noticed that the volunteers became more confident when they wore the Google Glass device and were more likely to engage in potentially deadly behavior as a result. Google withdrew the wearable device in 2015 after privacy issues were raised, but reports from the technology sector suggest that several other manufacturers are preparing to launch similar devices.

Government figures reveal that distracted driving deaths have increased alarmingly in recent years, and experienced personal injury attorneys will likely have represented clients who suffered serious injuries in car accidents caused by drivers who were distracted by cellphones. Liability in civil matters is established based on the preponderance of the evidence, and personal injury attorneys may seek to meet this burden of proof in distracted driving cases by introducing details of the defendant's social media activity or cellphone use at the time of the crash.

Source: New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, "Cell phone use & texting", accessed on May 1, 2018

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