With the purchase and use of vehicles that include lots of hi-tech and touchscreen controls on the increase, a decision by a court in Germany earlier this year could have a significant impact how road traffic accident claims are viewed by UK courts.
The case in Germany concerns a road traffic accident in 2019, where a driver of a Tesla electric car tried to adjust the interval speed of its windscreen wipers whilst driving in the rain. Tesla, a global pioneer of both electric and high-tech vehicles, has replaced many controls on its cars that are traditionally operated by column stalks or physical dial and buttons with touchscreen controls located on a large, central display. In this case, the interval speed of the wipers on the car in question (a Tesla model 3, the US firms latest model) can only be manually adjusted via the touchscreen. This involves looking down from the road ahead, locating the relevant software menus and then choosing one of 5 interval speed options.
Accident caused by distraction
The case was initially brought to a local court in Karlsruhe, Germany, who heard that the driver of the Tesla veered out of his lane whilst attempting to adjust the wiper controls on the touchscreen. The £45,000 car subsequently crashed into a tree lined embankment; fortunately, there were no injuries either to the driver or any other road users. The court ruled that whilst accepting that the Tesla Model 3 controls required "significantly more attention from the driver" than a more common stalks/buttons/lever style setup, the onus us still on the driver to ensure that they keep their eyes on the road and are paying full attention. Most importantly, the court also decreed that the cars built-in touchscreen is covered by the same safety laws designed to prevent mobile phone usage whilst driving, which in Germany only allow for a brief glance, for example when using a phone for navigation and directions. The rules are also clear that the driver must always take into account the potential impact of road conditions, traffic, visibility and weather.
Following the Karlsruhe court’s decision to ban the driver for 1 month and fine him €200 (£180), the driver subsequently appealed to a higher regional court, arguing that windscreen wiper controls are a safety-related feature that he needed to access. The higher court, however, backed the original judgement, saying that whether or not the screen was a permanent part of the car was irrelevant and that it did not matter why the driver was looking at a touchscreen while driving, only that he actually did so.
Motoring journalists and road safety experts have been expressing concerns regarding the use of touchscreens for certain controls for a number of years. Only time will tell whether similar judgements are made in UK courts that affect the outcome of road traffic accident claims.
Road Accident Injury Claims Advice from Bakers Solicitors
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