Litigation cases are routinely filed against drivers – and their employers – when they look away from the road to interact with a device in the course of their employment and cause an accident. Every day of the week we regularly see motorists using hand-held electronic devices while driving. Statistics from the Road Safety Authority show that traffic fatalities are increasing. In particular, fatalities caused by “distracted driving” have increased. Drivers who take their eyes off the road to interact with their mobile phone or other digital devices are “visually distracted”.
Liability against a driver is based on common law, rules of negligence and violation of road traffic statutes. Liability against the driver’s employer can be based on the principle of vicarious liability.
Driving is cognitively demanding, so looking away from the road to manually interact with a device is obviously dangerous. But what about using voice-activated hands-free devices?
While these devices are advertised as risk-free, studies have demonstrated otherwise. Research has consistently shown that going from hand-held to hands-free provides no significant safety benefit because doing so does not eliminate the cognitive demand placed on drivers. While many people claim to be good multitaskers, it is rare that someone can do two cognitively demanding tasks perfectly at the same time. Most people switch their attention back and forth from one task to another and performance on each task suffers.
Cases in America are now being filed against people who facilitate a driver’s texting or app use. In 2013, a New Jersey Court held that under limited circumstances, a valid cause of action exists against a person not present in the driver’s vehicle but who texted the driver, resulting in a crash.
The Court in that case held that the “remote texter” owed a duty to those injured if he or she knew, when sending the text, that the recipient was driving and would continue to drive and read the text, thereby distracting the driver. In that case, telephone records indicated that the driver was exchanging text messages with his girlfriend while driving. It would be interesting to see if an Irish Court would make the same decision.