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Cellphone makers asked to help curb distracted driving

Modern cellphones are marvels of technology, but they have also been linked with a surge in the number of distracted driving accidents in Illinois and around the country. Studies have found that young people find it especially difficult to tear themselves away from their cellphones while behind the wheel, and just a brief glance away to read a text message or look at a photograph can lead to tragedy. In late 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a set of guidelines designed to tackle the problem, and they include a request to cellphone makers to include features that are designed to keep drivers focused on the task at hand.

NHTSA wants companies like Samsung, Apple and Motorola to make devices that can be paired with the sophisticated electronic systems of modern automobiles. When pairing is not possible, the agency would like cellphones to feature a driver mode that prevents them from displaying images, playing videos and sending or receiving text messages. Paired phones would still be able to display emergency notifications under the NHTSA plan, and driver mode would allow a cellphone's mapping and GPS functions to continue working.

The agency hopes that electronics manufacturers will be swayed by the seriousness of the problem. Data from the federal agency reveals that 35,092 Americans died in car or truck crashes in 2015, and about 10 percent of these deaths were subsequently linked to distracted driving.

Distracted drivers are seldom eager to admit that their reckless actions caused an accident, but the records stored on their cellphones may provide accident investigators and personal injury attorneys with a detailed picture of what they were doing in the moments before impact. The victims of distracted drivers often suffer debilitating injuries, and demonstrating that a cellphone was in use at the time of an accident could establish negligence in lawsuits filed on their behalf.

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