Every day, motorists travel to and fro on city streets, highways, and byways, commuting, picking the kids up, and running errands. Inevitably, some of those trips end in a crash. New Jersey alone counts nearly 300,000 car accidents on its roads each year.
Drivers can prevent many of these accidents by practicing safe driving behaviors. However, as we know all too well, many drivers take the opposite approach to safety behind the wheel. They speed, fail to signal, weave in and out of traffic, and treat driving as an expression of their emotional state. These reckless behaviors cause accidents and far too many tragic, preventable injuries and fatalities.
If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries because of another driver’s reckless behavior, contact a skilled and experienced car accident lawyer today. You have the legal right to hold reckless drivers financially accountable for your injuries and the costs those injuries inflict on your life.
In this blog, we discuss the hazards of reckless driving, what you can do to avoid them, and how an attorney can help if a driver’s recklessness harms you or a loved one.
Reckless Driving Defined
Different states define and punish reckless driving differently.
New Jersey, for example, defines reckless driving as driving “a vehicle heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property.”
It makes reckless driving a crime punishable by “imprisonment in the county or municipal jail for a period of not more than 60 days, or by a fine of not less than $50.00 or more than $200.00, or both. On a second or subsequent conviction he shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than three months, or by a fine of not less than $100 or more than $500, or both.”
What sort of driving behaviors could qualify as reckless under this definition? Lots, principally because driving behavior becomes reckless when it disregards others’ safety. So, reckless driving may include:
- Tailgating (a.k.a. following too close);
- Exceeding the speed limit or driving too fast for road conditions;
- Erratic lane changes or turns, particularly without signaling;
- Driving on the road shoulder or between lanes of traffic (a.k.a. lane splitting);
- Dangerous passing, such as on two lane roads with a solid double centerline;
- Failure to yield right of way;
- Running red lights and stop signs;
- Making illegal U-turns; and
- Engaging in any driving behavior that uses a vehicle as a weapon or a means of expressing anger or hostility.
Many times, reckless drivers engage in more than one of these activities at once, putting every other user of the road—drivers, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians—at needless risk of serious injuries or death.
Reckless Driving Causes
Some people drive recklessly on purpose. Others do so without giving it much thought. No matter the motivation, however, reckless driving behavior poses an unacceptable risk to the public. Here are some of the most common factors underlying reckless driving accidents, in our experience:
Alcohol plays a large part in car accident deaths. In fact, one person dies every hour from an alcohol related car accident in the United States. However, alcohol represents just one of many substances or conditions that can impair a driver’s abilities. Others include:
- Lack of adequate sleep;
- Prescription drug side effects;
- Medical conditions; and
- Illegal drugs.
No matter what substance or condition fuels reckless driving, the outcome remains the same: preventable injuries and senseless fatalities.
Extreme congestion does not stop drivers from speeding. In fact, most Garden State drivers would probably find it unusual not to see someone speeding at some point on any drive of more than a few minutes. Many of us even think of speeding as something of a right. Who hasn’t driven 70 miles per hour in a 65 miles per hour zone, after all?
Common as speeding may seem, however, it constitutes reckless driving because it can take a severe toll on other drivers and passengers in an accident. The force of an impact rises exponentially with the speed of the vehicles involved. Quite literally, speeding kills.
Failure to Yield
Many of us may have unintentionally run a stop sign or a red light. It happens. Even so, failing to yield at appropriate times constitutes reckless driving that can have devastating consequences.
Of course, sometimes drivers refuse to yield on purpose. They speed up when they see a light turn yellow, or try to turn across a congested lane of oncoming traffic, thinking they have enough time or space to slip through. The result, however, often consists of a tragic T-bone accident that ruins lives.
Distracted driving happens whenever a driver’s hands leave the wheel, eyes look away from the road ahead, or mind drifts to thoughts other than safe vehicle operation. Using a cell phone behind the wheel constitutes a textbook example of distracted driving, but it hardly describes the full extent of the problem.
Other distracted driving behaviors include:
- Eating and drinking;
- Adjusting a radio or GPS;
- Turning to talk to passengers in the back seat;
- Reaching for an object on the floorboard; and
Distracted drivers cause catastrophic accidents, severe injuries, and death. Experienced motor vehicle accident attorneys seek to hold those drivers accountable for their actions by seeking compensation on behalf of clients injured by the drivers’ actions.
Following too closely is reckless. It distracts and frightens the driver in the lead car, and increases the likelihood of a rear end collision if that car needs to stop suddenly (which itself becomes more likely because of the lead driver’s distraction and fear). If necessary, drivers of the lead vehicle in a tailgating scenario should pull off to allow the trailing car to pass. That may feel like giving in to bullying behavior, but it is safer than running the risk of a collision and injury.
Common Reckless Driving-Related Injuries
Reckless driving causes motor vehicle accidents. Accidents cause a wide variety of potentially catastrophic, and totally preventable, injuries, such as:
- Spinal cord injuries;
- Traumatic brain injuries;
- Crushed limbs and complex fractures;
- Internal bleeding; and
- Neck and shoulder soft-tissue injuries.
In fact, virtually any injury imaginable can follow from a reckless driving motor vehicle accident. No matter what kind of injury a reckless driver inflicted on your life, an experienced motor vehicle accident injury attorney can help you recover the compensation you deserve.
Getting Compensation for a Reckless Driving Accident Injury
Injuries suffered in a reckless driving accident can inflict devastating physical, emotional, and financial costs. Experienced motor vehicle accident injury attorneys work day-in, day-out, to obtain compensation for those harms from the parties who caused them (and, frequently, those parties’ insurance companies).
Through negotiation, litigation, or a combination of both, attorneys work on their injured clients’ behalf to recover compensation for (among other costs):
- Medical expenses;
- Lost wages and earning potential;
- Other out of pocket costs of an injury and recovery;
- Physical pain and emotional suffering;
- Loss of companionship; and
- Loss of enjoyment of life.
Every reckless driving accident has its own unique facts and circumstances. What one accident victim may have the right to recover as compensation, another may not. Working with an experienced attorney is the best way to obtain maximum compensation for the full range of harms caused by a reckless driving accident.
Who pays these damages? Typically, the reckless driver (and the driver’s auto insurance carrier) have a legal liability for a reckless driving accident. Other parties, however, might share liability with the driver, too. For instance:
- The driver’s employer (if the accident involved the driver’s commercial vehicle), who generally has legal responsibility for an employee’s actions, and may also face liability for failing to train an employee not to drive recklessly;
- A bar or restaurant who served alcohol to the reckless driver while the driver was visibly intoxicated or if the driver was a minor;
- Any other individuals or entities whose poor decisions or careless actions contributed to the cause of the accident.
An experienced motor vehicle accident injury attorney often makes a significant effort to identify all parties with potential legal liability for a reckless driving accident, to help ensure that an injured client has the chance to seek compensation from any source permitted under the law. Speak with a lawyer today to begin exploring who may have a legal liability to you for injuries you suffered in a reckless driving accident.
Five Steps to Take After a Reckless Driving Accident
Your legal right to compensation may depend, in part, on the steps you take after a reckless driving accident suddenly barges its way into your life.
Of course, no one can truly plan for the unexpected, but knowing to take the basic steps below can help keep you healthy and your legal options open.
- Call 911 to summon first responders to the scene of your accident. The police who arrive will collect evidence and information to create a police report. EMTs will arrive to treat anyone injured (more on this below). Cooperate with their efforts as much as possible, while taking care not to blame yourself for the crash. Keep in mind that even offhand comments, like “I’m so sorry” or “I should have seen him coming” could get taken out of context to suggest you caused the accident.
- Accept/seek medical attention. Allow EMTs to give you a once over to screen for any obvious injuries. Do not simply assume that because you feel okay that you have, in fact, escaped the crash unscathed. You may have injuries you do not yet feel. No matter what the EMT tells you, schedule an immediate appointment with your regular doctor for the next day, to get a full examination that can spot potential injuries.
- Take pictures. If you can, take pictures of the accident scene, all vehicles involved, and your injuries. The old cliche is true that a picture can speak a thousand words to lawyers, investigators, and even juries.
- Ask about keeping a personal injury journal. Over the course of your recovery, you may forget the daily struggles you faced. Part of getting compensation from the parties at fault for a reckless driving accident may include proving your own pain and suffering. Speak with your lawyer to find out if keeping a journal of your injuries would help in establishing that proof.
- DO NOT agree to any settlement or in-kind offer. Finally, we urge victims of reckless driving accidents to exercise caution if anyone contacts them offering to settle or to make things right, especially if that offer suggests cutting a deal without getting lawyers involved. In our experience, no unsolicited offer will compensate you adequately for your injuries. If an insurance company, defense lawyer, or private party offers you money, goods, or services out of the blue, treat that as a signal that someone thinks they owe you significantly more than they have offered. Do not sign or agree to anything without first consulting with an experienced attorney.
Having taken these steps, do not wait to speak with an experienced motor vehicle accident injury attorney about your right to seek compensation for your injuries. The sooner you speak with an attorney, the better your chances of the attorney finding and making use of important evidence to identify parties who have a legal liability to you, and to prove how much money you should receive as damages.
Contact a Lawyer Today
Reckless drivers put everyone on the road at risk—motorists, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. They deserve to have victims hold them accountable for their conduct. Money damages cannot erase the memory of a terrifying reckless driving crash, but they can help pay for medical treatments and provide support as you recover your health and wellbeing.
If a reckless driving accident has left you or a loved one injured, or has caused a tragic death, contact an experienced car accident lawyer right away for a free case evaluation. You have rights, and an attorney can protect them.