Do Video Game Features Increase the Risk of Distracted Driving Accidents?

Video Games in Car

Distracted driving remains at the top of the list of most common causes of car wrecks in the United States, and talking and texting on the phone is often to blame for these largely preventable accidents. The last thing motorists need is something else to distract their attention away from the road ahead. Unfortunately, according to a recent New York Times article, it appears that Tesla has updated the software in the Model 3 to allow occupants to play video games while the vehicle is moving. This raises serious safety concerns because approximately 10 percent of all traffic fatalities are caused by distracted driving, and that is likely a conservative estimate. Realistically, closer to half of these tragic, yet avoidable accidents are caused by distracted driving behaviors such as talking, texting, applying make-up, and reaching for something in the back seat. If you are injured in a distracted driving accident involving a motorist who was playing a video game while driving, you are urged to contact a skilled car wreck lawyer as soon as possible.

Prior to the software update, vehicle occupants could play video games only when the vehicle was in park. Once the vehicle started moving, the games that had been downloaded on the dashboard screens were disabled. Now, games such as Sky Force Reloaded, The Battle of Polytopia, and Solitaire are playable on the vehicle’s center touch screen while the vehicle is in motion. Before the vehicle occupant can launch the game, a notification appears on the screen that asks the player to confirm that he or she is not the driver. This is meant to deter the driver from playing the game while operating the vehicle. However, all the driver has to do is tap the “I am a passenger” button and the game will launch. Not only do these games distract the driver’s attention away from the road, but also more complex games such as Sky Force cause more visual and cognitive distractions than other common distractions like talking on the phone. To date, there have been close to 60 complaints from owners of Model 3 Teslas.

How Do Gaming Features Compare to Other Forms of Distracted Driving?

There is no question that playing a video game using the center console touch screen while driving is irresponsible, unsafe, and can lead to a serious distracted driving accident. According to a 2019 study by AAA, when drivers are distracted, their attention can be taken away from the road for up to 40 seconds.  This is an alarming statistic when you consider the fact that sending or reading a text message takes your eyes off the road for approximately five seconds. When traveling at a speed of 55 mph, that is comparable to driving the entire length of a football field with your eyes closed. 

However, the giant screens that are featured in Tesla vehicles are not unique. Virtually every automaker is manufacturing vehicles that are equipped with large center console screens that are used for GPS navigation systems, the vehicle’s temperature regulation, and the sound system, all of which can distract the driver’s attention away from the road. In addition, smart phones have been a major distraction for drivers since the late 2000s. Prior to that, drivers were distracted by children misbehaving in the back seat, putting on makeup, or eating a sandwich on the way to work. Yet, although motorists certainly have a responsibility to keep their attention focused on the road and avoid common distractions, car manufacturers should consider the safety risks associated with technology that is equipped in new vehicles, such as the large screens that allow drivers to play video games or watch a Netflix or YouTube video that the passenger is watching. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also expressed concern over Tesla’s software update. In a statement provided to Reuters, the agency stated that distracted driving accidents are a major concern, particularly in vehicles that are equipped with a wide range of convenience technologies and entertainment screens that take drivers’ attention away from the road. According to the agency, there were 3,142 distracted driving-related fatalities in 2019, and this is likely an underestimate because many drivers do not admit that they were distracted at the time of the accident. 

How Does Distracted Driving Affect Pedestrians?

Another popular gaming technology is the Pokemon Go app that allows players to search for Pokemon creatures using their smartphones. To catch all the creatures, players must find them in various public places and locations. Users often play the game with a group of friends. At the height of its popularity, there were millions of users downloading the app and playing the game. Unfortunately, with the number of users out and about searching for Pokemon creatures, there was an increase in pedestrian injuries. Players who were focused on their smartphone screens were not paying attention to their surroundings. As a result, they were more likely to slip and fall or cross the street without looking. In fact, the National Safety Council (NSC) urges pedestrians to use caution and pay close attention to their surroundings when playing Pokemon Go.

Although distracted pedestrians are at an increased risk of injuries, distracted drivers are even more dangerous if they play Pokemon Go while driving. Not only are they more likely to be distracted by their phone, but also drivers who are playing the game are more likely to speed in order to catch the creatures before other players. Ultimately, this puts the driver, the other passengers in the car, other vehicles in the vicinity, and pedestrians in the areas at risk for a serious, potentially fatal personal injury.

Who Is Liable for a Distracted Driving Accident?

All motorists have a duty to operate their vehicle in a way that does not cause injury to another motorist, cyclist, or pedestrian. Driving while playing Pokemon Go or a video game such as Sky Force Reloaded or Solitaire is unsafe and would likely be considered negligent. As a result, the person who caused the accident should be held liable for the resulting personal injury and property damage. Products liability laws also state that the manufacturer of a product has a duty to manufacture products that are safe and free of any defects or hazards. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, the maker of Pokemon Go may also be held liable because the app encourages players to focus more on the game than their surroundings. 

What Should I Do if I Am Injured in a Distracted Driving Accident?

There are a wide range of distractions that take motorists’ attention away from the road, which means that distracted driving accidents will continue to be an unfortunate reality. If you are involved in a car wreck that was caused by a distracted driver, there are a number of steps that you should take, including the following:

  • Check for injuries. Your health and safety are the top priority, so it is important to determine whether you or anyone else in the vehicle has been injured. 
  • Call 911. If you are physically able to do so, call 911 and notify dispatch that you were involved in a car wreck. If injuries were involved, let dispatch know so that they send an ambulance to the scene.
  • Collect evidence. Take pictures and video of the scene, including the damage to your vehicle, your injuries, as well as skid marks or debris on the road.
  • Exchange information. Ask the other driver for his or her contact information, including driver’s license number and license plate. In addition, exchange insurance information.
  • Talk to witnesses. If there were witnesses who saw the accident occur, ask if they would be willing to provide a statement and ask for their contact information.
  • Notify your insurance company. It is important that you contact your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident. Keep in mind that insurance companies are in the business of making money, so be careful not to say anything that could be interpreted as admitting fault. Your insurance agent will inform you about the steps you will need to take to file a personal injury claim.
  • Call a car wreck lawyer. It is highly recommended that you contact an experienced car wreck lawyer, particularly if you suffered any injuries. He or she will determine who is responsible for causing the accident and assist you with every step of the claims process. 

Baltimore Car Wreck Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Clients Injured by Distracted Drivers 

If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a car accident involving another motorist who was driving while distracted, you are urged to contact the Baltimore car wreck lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton at your earliest convenience. We will thoroughly review the details of your case, determine whether negligence was involved, and ensure that you receive the financial compensation for which you are entitled for your injuries. We will continue to fight for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in Baltimore, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent clients throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.