Distracted driving is one of the most serious issues affecting traffic safety today. It ranks among the leading causes of accidents nationwide and frequently leads to motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists suffering severe and fatal injuries. The toll distracting driving takes is all the more tragic because it is also 100 percent preventable.
Here’s a deep dive into the features, causes, and outcomes of distracted driving, and how an experienced car accident attorney can obtain financial compensation for its innocent victims.
What Is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving occurs whenever a distraction draws a motorist’s attention away from the road. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), distracted driving causes over 3,000 deaths annually, accounting for one in ten fatal accidents on U.S. roads.
Innocent victims of distracted driving crashes may also sustain a wide variety of survivable but severe injuries, including brain trauma, spinal cord damage, broken bones, and internal bleeding, any of which can cause extreme pain and long-lasting disabilities.
Researchers recognize three general categories of distraction that can divert a driver’s attention and lead to a deadly accident. Alone, any of these distractions can substantially increase crash risk. The danger rises exponentially when they occur in combination.
These distractions take the driver’s visual focus away from the road and toward another object of the driver’s attention, such as a passenger, phone screen, GPS map, radio dial, or a roadside billboard. A driver whose visual focus strays loses critical seconds to spot and respond to road hazards.
These distractions cause drivers to remove their hands from the steering wheel to engage in other tasks. For instance, drivers may reach for their phones to respond to a text message or phone call. Upon removing their hands from the wheel, drivers lose the ability to respond effectively to a sudden road-related danger.
Even a driver who doesn’t engage with visual or manual distractions can still think about something other than driving. That’s only ok if the driver retains enough focus on the road to recognize and respond to various driving situations. But some cognitive tasks—like texting or deep daydreaming—overwhelm the driver’s ability to pay attention, effectively blinding and handcuffing them in the same manner as a visual or manual distraction and increasing the risk of a deadly accident.
Common Driver Distractions
Many potential distractions can divert a motorist’s attention away from the task of driving. Here are some of the most common distracting behaviors behind the wheel.
Cell Phone Use
Cell phones have become a major contributor to distracted driving. Texting, calling, or simply looking at a cell phone while driving is extremely dangerous. Most tasks associated with using a cellphone constitute a combination of visual, manual, and cognitive distractions, simultaneously taking a driver’s eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, and mind off driving safely.
In the past several years, many states have passed distracted driving legislation to curtail cell phone use by drivers. Most states have outlawed texting and driving. Some have also barred other cell phone use behind the wheel, such as holding a phone while making a call.
Teens constitute a high-risk group for distracted driving. According to the CDC, texting and emailing while driving is especially common among high school students.
Eating and Drinking
Food and drinks also present visual, manual, and cognitive distractions. Many drivers eat or drink behind the wheel, mistakenly believing that because it’s so common, it’s perfectly safe. But numerous accidents occur every year when drivers pay more attention to sipping a coffee or unwrapping a fast food burger than staying focused on the road.
Adjusting Radio and Climate Controls
Innovations in vehicle technology have made it easier than ever for motorists to adjust a car’s radio and climate controls. But many vehicles still feature dashboard controls that can create manual, visual, and cognitive distractions. In the few seconds it takes to fiddle with a dial, button, or knob, a driver can lose focus and get into a dangerous accident.
Conversations with Passengers
Speaking with a passenger can constitute both a visual and cognitive distraction. Too much conversation among vehicle occupants can distract a driver from maintaining a safe speed, distance from other vehicles, and situational awareness on the road. Engaging in heated arguments and disciplining unruly children in the back seat can be especially distracting.
Over-reliance on a GPS App or Device
Drivers increasingly rely on GPS technology to guide them to their destinations, particularly on road trips and in unfamiliar areas. But although a GPS can help you find your way, it can also constitute a dangerous visual, manual, and cognitive distraction. Drivers who end up staring at routes on a GPS instead of the road ahead, or following a GPS’s directions despite visible hazards, risk causing deadly accidents.
Drivers sometimes try to save time in the morning by applying makeup in the car, which typically involves looking in a visor or rearview mirror. It’s both a visual and manual distraction that can easily divert the driver’s attention away from safe vehicle operation.
Driving with Pets
Pets can distract drivers by moving around a vehicle. Drivers who try to control or discipline a pet can lose focus and get into a crash.
Daydreaming and Other Cognitive Distractions
Few motorists think only about driving while behind the wheel. Many use driving as a quiet time to reflect on home life, relationships, work, stressors, or plans. While it’s normal and usually safe to treat driving time as thinking time, a driver who gets too lost in thought can become dangerously distracted.
Potential Compensation for Distracted Driving Accident Victims
Distracted drivers who cause accidents (and their insurers) will typically face legal and financial liability to victims of their carelessness, including other vehicle occupants, pedestrians, and cyclists injured in a collision. Others whose actions contributed to the cause of an accident may also have liability.
Obtaining compensation for injuries and losses sustained in a distracted driving accident usually involves taking legal action, such as submitting a liability insurance claim or filing a lawsuit. If successful, those actions can result in the injured victim receiving payments as compensation for the harm they suffered. These so-called compensatory damages fall into two broad categories: economic and non-economic.
Economic damages consist of the expenses and financial losses caused by the accident and the victim’s injuries.
Recoverable economic damages in a distracted driving accident case may include:
- Medical expenses for treatment of injuries and related health complications
- Lost income resulting from disability or the time taken off from work, including the value of sick days and vacation time used
- Lost earning capacity because of a long-term disability
- Property damage, including damage to vehicles and other belongings
- Rehabilitation expenses
- Long-term care costs
- Mental health treatment costs
- Any other reasonable expenditures directly resulting from the accident and injuries
Non-economic damages constitute compensation for all other types of harm a distracted driving accident victim suffers, including:
- Physical pain and discomfort
- Emotional distress and mental health challenges
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of companionship or consortium (relationships)
- Loss of independence
- Scarring and disfigurement
Attorneys and insurance companies use a variety of methods to estimate non-economic damages. Two common approaches are the multiplier method and the per diem method.
The multiplier method involves ranking the severity and overall impact of injuries on a scale and multiplying that rating by your economic damages. The per diem method involves estimating the dollar value of the pain, suffering, and inconvenience the victim suffers per day and multiplying that figure by the expected duration of those life impacts.
If a distracted driving case goes to trial, the law typically does not require a jury to use a particular method to determine non-economic damages. But some states limit the non-economic damages a victim may receive.
Sometimes, a court may also award punitive damages to the distracted driving accident victim, in addition to economic and non-economic damages. These damages punish the at-fault party rather than compensate the victim. A jury or judge may award these damages if the defendant acted with gross negligence, extreme indifference to the health and safety of others, or intent to harm.
Here’s Why You Should Hire a Lawyer After a Distracted Driving Accident
In the wake of suffering injuries in a distracted driving accident, the last thing you want is to lose sleep over how to get money to pay your expenses and recover from your trauma. Your time and energy should go toward healing and moving on, not stressing over dealing with insurance companies and the courts.
You can leave the entire process of obtaining compensation for your injuries and losses to an experienced lawyer.
An attorney who represents distracted driving accident victims can:
- Meet with you in a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your rights and options
- Investigate your distracted driving accident to determine how it happened and who should face legal liability for the harm you suffered
- Answer your questions and advise you about how to make decisions that protect your rights
- Take quick action to meet key deadlines and preserve your claim
- Collect evidence for, prepare, file, and pursue insurance claims and lawsuits on your behalf
- Represent your interests in dealings with investigators, insurance adjusters, and the media
- Negotiate with insurance companies to achieve a settlement of your claims whenever possible
- Advise you about the amount of damages you can expect to receive and whether to accept or reject a settlement offer
- Appear in court on your behalf to argue your case to a judge and jury at trial
- Take action to collect payments owed to you under a settlement, court judgment, or jury award
In other words, an attorney can handle every aspect of the process of securing money for your losses, so that you have the time, space, and energy you need to heal and rebuild.
Hiring a Lawyer Costs Nothing Unless You Win
Do not worry about affording a lawyer. Attorneys represent injured distracted driving accident victims on a contingent fee basis. That means they do their work in exchange for a percentage of any money they secure on your behalf. In other words, you do not pay them a dime unless they get you results.
Don’t Let Insurance Companies Take Advantage of You
In most distracted driving accident cases, the at-fault party’s insurance company bears at least some financial responsibility for paying your damages. But that doesn’t mean the insurer wants to hand over that money to you. It will seize on any reason available to avoid paying your claim.
Insurance companies sometimes try to take advantage of injured accident victims by contacting them directly to discuss their claims. In these conversations, the insurers ask questions and use tactics designed to undermine your rights and to give them reasons to pay you less than you deserve.
But hiring a lawyer prevents insurers from engaging in that kind of conduct. A lawyer serves as your representative in all dealings with an insurance company and protects you from making potentially costly mistakes. Insurance adjusters know that when you have a skilled attorney by your side, they will have to take your claim seriously and pay you a fair amount.
Contact an Experienced Distracted Driving Accident Attorney Today
If a distracted driving accident injured you, you may recover significant compensation from the at-fault party and its insurance company.
To learn more, contact an experienced distracted driving accident lawyer today for a free case consultation.