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Car Accidents and Distracted Driving

The Dangers of Distracted Driving

In the age of social media and constant communication, distracted driving is a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents. Every day, 9 people in the United States die from distracted driving. Almost 80% of crashes and 65% of near crashes involve some sort of driver inattention within three seconds before the event.  At 55 mph, your car can travel the entire length of a football field in just five seconds of inattention.

In 2017, over 50,000 crashes in North Carolina were cause by distracted driving, resulting in over 25,000 injuries and 152 deaths. Even given the high number of crashes and resulting injuries, many instances go unreported.

While commonly, distracted driving involves cellphone use, there are a number of different type of dangerous distractions that are categorized into three different types:

  • Cognitive – Distractions that cause you to take your mind off driving. This could include but is not limited to arguing with passengers, thinking about something outside of driving, and texting.
  • Visual – Distractions that cause you to take your eyes off the road. This could include but is not limited to looking at navigation, turning around to the backseat, staring at something on the road, and texting.
  • Manual – Distractions that cause you to take your hands off the wheel. This could include but is not limited to eating or drinking, getting ready, smoking, adjusting the radio, and texting.

Texting involves all three types of distraction.

In North Carolina, it is unlawful to use a mobile telephone for text messaging or electronic mail. NCGS § 20-137.4A. Additionally, in North Carolina, there are some exceptions to the general rule which prohibits the use of mobile telephones. For example, if the driver is lawfully parked or stopped, if the driver is one who is carrying out a lawful duty (law enforcement, firefighter, operator of ambulance),  if the driver is using a navigation system like a GPS, and the use of voice operated technology.   While the use of cell phones when driving is not completely banned, such as use of voice communication, other cell phone activities are classified as primary offenses. Primary enforcement means that a higher priority is associated with a law, and a police officer can stop you and cite you if they suspect distracted driving. This is different that secondary enforcement, where a law will only be enforced when a primary offense has also occurred. These primary offenses, constituting distracted driving include:

  • Pushing multiple buttons on a handheld device to communicate or browse the internet
  • Reading email or messages received or stored by the handheld device, except contact information
  • Using any features of the device that require the use of either hand

While the above rules and exceptions are applicable to most drivers, the laws for novice drivers are stricter. All drivers, under 18, are prohibited from using their phones in any way while driving. Novice drivers who commit a distracted driver offense can receive a ticket even if they have not committed any other traffic violation. Although the stricter laws apply, novice drivers can use their phones to contact emergency services, their parents and/or their spouses without a penalty. Parents can also be liable for a teen driver who commits a distracted driving offense. North Carolina has vicarious liability laws, and under these laws, a parent can be responsible for a teen driver.

Rules for Bus Drivers

Separately, bus drivers are not allowed to use any type of device while driving. This include both public and private bus drivers. Truck drivers may not text and drive and are also restricted from voice communication on cell phones. However, the same texting exceptions as outlined above apply to truck drivers.

The typical penalties for distracted driving include fines of $100 plus the cost of court and a citation, however it will not add points to your driving record. In 2016, 2535 citations were given for distracted driving in North Carolina. Other charges and penalties, such as reckless driving or vehicular homicide, may occur if the distracted driving accident results in a fatality.

Fifteen state have passed hand-free legislation. In 2017, Senator Jeff Tarte of Mecklenburg County filed Senate Bill 364. This bill, titled the Brian Garlock Act, would make using a cellphone or other device unlawful while operating a motor vehicle, unless hand-frees equipment is used. The law is named for a teenager, who was in an accident while using a cell phone. While the bill was introduced last year, it did not pass the House or Senate. It is likely to be reintroduced in 2019.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation does offer the following tips and strategies to avoid distracted driving:

  • Keep music volume at a comfortable, non-distracting level
  • Adjust the radio before driving
  • Avoid getting ready in the car
  • Place pets in carriers
  • Ask children and adult to be respectful while you are driving
  • Have a passenger navigate
  • Avoid cell phone use while driving
  • Stop the vehicle to respond to a message or call
  • Take breaks if you feel fatigued
  • Avoid reading signs or watching activity outside of the vehicle for a long period of time
  • Allow passengers to get inside your vehicle as a safe location, as opposed to at a stoplight or stop sign

While most people know it is negligent to drive and text at the same time, NC courts are unwilling to find said negligence, by itself, rises to the level of willful and wanton negligence.  This is important, because it does allow for punitive damages.  However, some courts have found that repeatedly texting for prolonged periods of time can constitute willful and wanton negligence and allow for punitive damages.  In cases where the defendant has admitted liability the plaintiff will be unable to introduce evidence of the defendant texting while driving.  So while most people agree that texting while driving is very dangerous, in most cases the jury may never hear about it.

If you are in involved in a distracted driving accident, contact one of our car accident lawyers.  We will discuss your case and options.

Sources

Dmv.org

  • 20-137.4A.  Unlawful use of mobile telephone for text messaging or electronic mail

https://www.ncdot.gov/initiatives-policies/safety/driving-safety/Pages/distracted-driving.aspx

  • 20-71.1. Registration evidence of ownership; ownership evidence of defendant’s responsibility for conduct of operation

https://connect.ncdot.gov/business/DMV/CrashFactsDocuments/2017%20Crash%20Facts.pdf

https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving

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