Tag Archives: distracted driving

Guest Post: Is Hands-Free Really Safer?

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On Monday I wrote about the legal problems associated with the hazards presented by GPS for professional drivers. Huntsville, Alabama attonrey Jeff Blackwell has agreed to let me re-publish his blog explaing why in-car devices like GPS are hazardous.

The Alabama Legislature has been debating bills that would prohibit the use of handheld devices like cellphones while driving. Last year, Georgia passed a similar hands-free law. Is hands-free safer? Will a hands-free law reduce needless car accidents and injuries in Alabama?

A National Safety Council public opinion poll indicates 80% of drivers believe hands-free devices are safer. Yet, safety experts remain doubtful. The Senior Director of the Transportation Initiative at the National Safety Council had this to say on the topic:

While many drivers honestly believe they are making the safe choice by using a hands-free device, it’s just not true.

The problem is the brain does not truly multi-task. Just like you can’t read a book and talk on the phone, you can’t safely operate a vehicle and talk on the phone.

A journalist asked the hosts of MythBusters the question. What did they do? They tested the issue with a driving simulator at Stanford University. The simulation involved 30 people driving in a busy, virtual neighborhood while talking on a cellphone. Half the drivers used handheld phones. Half talked hands-free. The results were amazingly similar. Only one driver passed the test in each group. Almost identical numbers crashed or drove the wrong way. The MythBusters conclusion:

It is no safer to use a hands-free device while driving than it is to use a handset.

I have mixed feelings on the issue. Do I believe hands-free is safer? Yes and no. Driver distractions are MANUAL, VISUAL and COGNITIVE. What are some manual distractions? Eating or drinking while driving. Reaching for items in the car. What are some visual distractions? Looking for items in the car. Watching an electronic device. Reading billboards (with their ridiculous clown lawyer ads). What are some cognitive distractions? Talking to passengers. Daydreaming. Feeling exhausted or fatigued. What makes handheld cellphones so dangerous? They involve ALL three types of distraction at the same time.

With a hand-free device, you reduce the manual and visual distractions while driving. I think that does increase safety. The problem is that many drivers don’t fully consider cognitive distractions. While most people realize that looking or reaching while driving diverts focus and attention, they tend to discount cognitive issues. Instead, they (wrongly) think they can multi-task. Many people are biased about their ability to multi-task. They wrongly believe they can safely concentrate on driving while mentally performing other tasks.

I think the Alabama Legislature should pass a hands-free law. It’s a start. If handheld devices are less accessible while driving, maybe some of the most dangerous activities will decrease. Maybe we won’t see reckless drivers surfing the internet with their phones while trying to drive. While the perception of hands-free safety is certainly greater than the reality, we should pass a hand-free law and carefully study accident statistics in the next few years.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in auto accident, distracted driving, Nebraska, personal injury and tagged , , .

GPS poses safety, legal risks to new professional drivers

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Contrary to conventional wisdom, one study shows the most dangerous distraction for drivers isn’t texting and driving, but the use of GPS navigation systems.

As driving jobs expand with rise of the gig economy and online shopping drivers, especially inexperienced drivers, may be relying on GPS navigation to the detriment of their safety of the job. Navigation devices can be a visual and cognitive distraction. The occupational hazard posed by GPS navigation brings up some important legal issues and hazards for professional drivers.

Employee classification is a major issue. Employees can collect workers’ compensation even if their own negligence caused the accident. In other words, the employee who got in an accident while distracted by their navigation system is still covered by workers’ compensation.

But it you are classified as an independent contractor, you are on your own for medical bills, lost income and permanent disability you are on your own if you are involved in accident where you at fault.

Unsurprisingly, gig economy companies like Uber and Lyft are fighting to classify their drivers as contractors. Gig economy companies are involved in a high-profile legislative fight in California that may have broad implication in other states and even at a federal level.

New employees are more likely to get injured. This is not good news for drivers in the high turnover ride hailing industry. A study of Uber drivers shows that nearly 2/3rds quit after six months and another study shows only 4 percent of drivers stay on for a year. The majority of drivers also drive for less than one year.

Ride hailing drivers may be particularly vulnerable to other distractions. Some ride hailing drivers will operate what amounts to a command center on their dashboard because they drive for multiple apps and monitor price information with separate phones.

Because of all those potential hazards to ride hailing drivers, I don’t think workers’ compensation attorneys can talk enough about misclassification of ride hailing drivers. But even drivers who are employees are vulnerable to risk from GPS caused auto accidents. Workers’ compensation only covers medical expenses and lost income from an injury. Workers’ compensation, at least in Nebraska, would not cover the cost of an auto insurance deductible for a driver who damaged their vehicle in a work injury where the employee was at-fault.

Many workers who do driving or delivery jobs also work at other jobs. Even if an injured driver is covered by workers’ compensation workers’ compensation disability benefits are only based on earnings from that employment.

For example, if an employee gets hurt in Nebraska and can’t work because of an injury on a second job where they made $150 per week, their temporary disability pay is limited to $100 per week even if that injury prevented them from doing another job where they made $600 per week. So even if the employees real loss of wages is $750 per week from an accident, they would be limited to $100 per week on a temporary basis. Nebraska law (Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-121(4)) assumes a 40-hour work week for the purposes of permanent disability, but employees can still be undercompensated for injuries on a second job – particularly if the second job had a relatively low hourly wage.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Nebraska, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , .

Long Lonesome Highway West Of Omaha*: Traveling And Employment Risk In Workers’ Compensation

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Employment risk and travelling legally intertwined for the purposes of workers’ compensation. For a workers’ compensation lawyer in Nebraska, they are also intertwined on a personal level.

Back on Friday January 12th, I drove 40 minutes south to Beatrice, Nebraska for a workers’ compensation trial where the main issue of the case was whether an employee who injured herself going out to roll up her car windows during a rain storm had an injury that related to her employment.

After that trial, I drove about an hour west for a client meeting in Thayer County and returned to Lincoln. I stayed up late the night before and woke up early that morning getting ready for a difficult trial. It was a long drive home.

Four weeks later, on Friday February 9th, I filed my final brief in the Beatrice case from a truck stop in Grand Island after a deposition and client meeting in Grand Island. I probably could have driven back to Lincoln and filed my brief, but I wanted to get my brief filed so I didn’t have to worry about it and potentially severe winter weather on the drive home.

Earlier this week, I negotiated a settlement in another case while traveling from Pierce County in northeast Nebraska back to Lincoln. I finalized the settlement with the opposing attorney while they were travelling.

Fatigue, weather and the temptation of using mobile devices while driving are risks for a workers’ compensation lawyer in Nebraska or anyone who must drive long distances for work in Nebraska or anywhere else. For white collar employees like me, driving is by far the biggest occupational hazard that would be covered under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act.

Nebraska law holds that employees injured while travelling for work are covered by workers’ compensation so long as they are engaged in the employer’s business. This is referred to as the commercial traveler rule. The question becomes what exactly is the employer’s business? This question can arise for all employees, not just travelling employees. In my case involving the employee who hurt herself going outside to roll up her car windows in a rainstorm, the court found that employee’s injury was covered by workers’ compensation because she was taking a break for personal convenience. Injuries that take place during breaks for personal comfort or convenience are generally held to be compensable or covered by workers’ compensation.

In the context of a travelling employee, if I had injured myself last Tuesday afternoon while getting lunch at a Subway in York, that injury probably would have been covered by workers’ compensation.

But not all injuries on a job site or while travelling for work are compensable. If an employee is injured while doing something strictly for a personal reason not connected to work, then that injury is not compensable. For example, an injury while travelling to an extra-marital rendezvous during a business trip would likely not be covered by workers’ compensation.

While injuries incurred during personal comfort breaks such as bathroom or meal breaks tend to be covered, injuries while an employee engages in an act of personal convenience are more controversial. They are what we call in the lawyer trade “fact intensive inquiries.” In layman’s terms, it depends on the circumstances. Is the break paid? What are the break policies? How does the break benefit the employer? How much did the errand or break deviate from employment duties? What are the exact employment duties? Injuries involving breaks for personal convenience present difficult factual and legal questions to which there are no easy one-size-fits-all answers.

*Yes, I am paraphrasing “Turn the Page” by Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band. For the record, the original “Turn the Page” is far superior to the Metallica cover.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in employment law, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , , , , .

Ending Distracted Driving: Federal Guidelines Proposed For Automakers

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distracted truckerToday’s post comes to us from our colleague Jon Gelman of New Jersey. It highlights the actions the Federal government is taking to eliminate the scourge of distracted driving-related injuries and fatalities.

After years of accidents in the workplace caused by the use of mobile devices in vehicles, the Federal government today proposed universal guidelines to encourage automobile manufacturers to electronically disable these devices when a vehicle is in operation.  The enforcement of this safety-first proposal may establish a legal standard to universally bar the use of such devices in vehicles and encourage employees to have a safer working environment.

See: U.S. Department of Transportation Proposes ‘Distraction’ Guidelines for Automakers
“Issued by the Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the guidelines would establish specific recommended criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured that require visual or manual operation by drivers. The announcement of the guidelines comes just days after President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request, which includes $330 million over six years for distracted driving programs that increase awareness of the issue and encourage stakeholders to take action. “

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Driving and tagged , , , .

Feds To Ban Truckers From Using (Hand-Held) Cell Phones

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Cell Phones Usage For Commercial Interstate Drivers to be BannedToday’s post comes to us from our colleague Jon Gelman of New Jersey. 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is proposing to restrict the use of hand-held mobile telephones, including hand-held cell phones, by drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) while operating in interstate commerce. Cell phones have become a major cause of distracted driving accidents resulting in an increase of workers’ compensation claims by employees as well as liability lawsuits against employers directly. This federal rule would be in addition to the many states which already ban hand-held cell phone use.

The following is a summary of the proposed rule: “FMCSA and PHMSA are amending Continue reading

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Business Travel, Cell phones, Driving, Independent Contractor, Safety Rules, Truckers, Working from Car and tagged , , , , .