Spotlight on Distracted Driving

On Behalf of | Mar 31, 2021 | Car Accidents, Truck Accidents

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has designated April 2021 as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

NHTSA is especially concerned about device distraction. These cases have increased significantly since the beginning of the smartphone era in 2007. To reduce these numbers, many state and local law enforcement agencies are participating in campaigns like U Drive, U Text, U pay and other heightened enforcement campaigns.

If temptation is a problem, NHTSA advises drivers to keep their phones in the glove compartment or back seat while they are behind the wheel. Appointing a passenger as a designated texter is usually a good idea as well.

Distracted Driving Statistics

Typically, people multitask their way through their days. A friend of mine recently said that she could simultaneously cook dinner, talk on the phone, feed her infant, and yell at her older children.

Therefore, most drivers assume they can do the same thing behind the wheel. Hand-held device distraction is especially hazardous because it combines all three forms of distracted driving, which are:

  • Manual (hand off the wheel),
  • Visual (eyes off the road), and
  • Cognitive (mind off driving).

So, hand-held device distraction gets most of the media attention. However, from a statistical standpoint, such distraction is only a small part of the problem.

Hands-free gadgets are a good example of the additional dangers. Manufacturers tout these devices as safe alternatives, and lawmakers have given them a stamp of approval in most cases. Yet hands-free smartphones feature two of the aforementioned types of distractions. These gadgets are cognitively and visually distracting.

There’s more bad news. Due to the positive press, hands-free devices give many people a fals sense of security. Furthermore, there is a lag time. After they use a hands-free device, most motorists do not fully re-engage with driving for about twenty seconds. On busy roads, a lot happens in twenty seconds.

Other distracted driving causes, which are even more common, include eating and drinking while driving.

Since there are several different causes of distracted driving, several different legal approaches are available. More on that below.

Evidence in Distracted Driving Claims

Medical treatment and vehicle replacement are the first two priorities for a Lexington personal injury attorney in the wake of a crash. Generally, attorneys convince providers to charge nothing upfront for these services. Once these items are secure, attorneys immediately begin collecting evidence.

Credible evidence is the foundation of all successful negligence claims. Evidence of general distraction includes:

  • Erratic Driving: Missed curves, missed stoplights, and failure to stop for traffic are some of the most obvious signs of distracted driving. Motorists who are watching the road and concentrating on driving almost always react to such situations.
  • Statements About Distraction: When first responders ask drivers “What happened?”, many motorists freely admit that they were not watching the road. Frequently, they believe such admissions somehow excuse their negligent behavior. But instead, they are admissions of liability.
  • Objects in the Passenger Area: The low burden of proof comes into play in this area. If there’s a phone near the tortfeasor, it’s more likely than not that s/he was using it. If there’s a drink in the cupholder, it’s more likely than not that s/he was drinking it. The list goes on.

Use logs are often critical in device distraction claims. If a text came in at 2:15, it’s more likely than not that the tortfeasor read it, or at least looked at it. If the video player was in use at 3:15, it’s more likely than not that the owner was watching it.

This critical evidence is often unavailable. Frequently, tortfeasors “accidentally” delete use logs. The information is still there, but it’s more expensive and time-consuming to obtain.

So, attorneys usually send spoliation letters to tortfeasors in the wake of a distracted driving crash. These letters create a legal duty to preserve all potential physical evidence, including device use logs. If the tortfeasor ignores this letter, the judge isn’t happy. Furthermore, when jurors find out, they usually assume the tortfeasor was trying to hide something.

Liability Theories

Pieces of evidence are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They do little good unless a Lexington personal injury attorney puts the pieces together and creates a compelling picture for jurors. Frequently, a lawyer works with an accident reconstruction engineer during this part of the process, especially in very complex claims.

Currently, Kentucky law only bans texting while driving. So, the negligence per se shortcut is only available in limited situations. Under this rule, tortfeasors who violate safety laws and cause crashes could be liable for damages as a matter of law. 

Evidence is still important in negligence per se claims, especially in terms of damages. The more distracted the driver was, the more damages Fayette County jurors typically award.

If this doctrine is not an option, the ordinary negligence doctrine is still available. These victim/plaintiffs must prove negligence, or a lack of care, by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. We’ve talked about evidence in device and non-device claims. The evidence must indicate a lack of care. Most jurors will overlook a glance at a phone. But they won’t overlook consistent cell phone use.

Distracted drivers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters. #goodelawyers