Distracted Driving: Causes & their Legal Liabilities


written by Matthew Zullo

With the cell phone becoming an indispensable accessory and its use becoming habitual, we hear more and more about the hazards that come with using one while driving. Unfortunately, the news is often tragic and distracted driving results in about 3500 deaths and over 400,000 serious injuries each year. And while we are all becoming more aware of the dangers of driving while texting or talking on a cell phone, cell phone use is not the only source of distraction. Even before cell phones were invented, litigation involving motor vehicle accidents involved investigation and detail questioning of defendants and witness as to the source of anything that may have diverted a driver’s attention away from the roadway. Drivers can be distracted by using a radio, GPS, consuming food or beverages, putting on makeup, reaching for an item in the car and I have actually seen drivers using electric razors.

The primary purpose of driving is operating a motor vehicle so that you can arrive at your destination safely without causing harm to yourself or others. Driving requires cognitive, manual and visual effort and any activity that also requires these functions will take away from your ability to drive in a safe manor.  Texting is particularly dangerous because it involves all three of the listed functions.  You must think of a message, manually type it while visually looking at the keyboard.  This is why you are 24 times more likely to be in an accident while texting than while simply talking on a phone while using a hands free device.  But even the use of Bluetooth technology carries a 4% greater chance of being involved in an accident.

As a personal injury attorney I have represented families and individuals who have been the victim of the negligence of distracted drivers.   It is always important to discover the cause of an accident to clearly establish negligence.  Defendants will rarely admit to being distracted and that is why it is critical to do a proper investigation and thorough deposition of the defendant to establish where they were looking and what they were doing just before an accident.  Every driver is under the obligation to see what there is to be seen and it is unlikely that if one is paying strict attention to the roadway, they will be the cause of an accident.  Cell phone records can be obtain but the party seeking the records must establish a reasonable basis for obtaining the records and the records will be limited to the time period of the accident.  A reasonable basis can be established by a witness or party who saw a party on the cell phone just before an accident.  Or there may be an indication in the police report concerning cell phone use or other distraction.  Many drivers will be forthright at the scene of an accident and admit that they were reaching for an item or on a cell phone and that admission maybe used to establish a reasonable basis for obtaining cell phone records.

Fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16-19 year-olds nearly 3 times the rate for drivers ages 20 and over and nearly twice as high for 16-17 year-olds as for 18-19 year-olds.

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