Driving is an important part of our society. The majority of Americans own at least one car, or rely on other forms of transportation, to go to work and carry out their everyday activities. Unfortunately with an increase in driving, there has been an increase in car accidents.
The National Safety Council estimates that in 2020, 42,060 people died in car accidents across the United States. Despite the pandemic and stay at home orders being issued for much of the country in 2020, that number represents an 8% increase from 2019.
While speeding is still the leading cause of car accidents in the United States, car accidents caused by distracted driving are on the rise. Distracted driving can result in death and injury to both people and property. North Carolina Department of Transportation statistics for the year 2020 show that there were 273,543 car crashes in North Carolina. In 1,658 of those accidents, someone was killed. In 105,368 of those car accidents, someone was injured. It is estimated that about 20% of those car crashes were caused by distracted driving while drinking and driving accounted for just over 4% of accidents in North Carolina. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 8 people die per day in the United States because of distracted driving.
Distracted driving happens when something takes a driver’s attention away from the road. Distracted driving can happen as a result of things happening in the car or outside of the car. Distractions in the car can occur when people are eating, changing the radio station, are upset and thinking about something that is not driving, or are distracted by what other passengers in the car are doing. Distracted driving can also occur when our attention is drawn to something outside of the car which results in our taking our eyes off the road, even for a split second. Watching activity on the side of the road or even reading electronic traffic signs or billboards can be distracting. Distracted driving has increased dramatically across the country largely due to the increased use of smartphones. Not only are people talking on the phone, but they are now texting. It takes only a few seconds for something unexpected to happen if you are looking down at your phone.
Legislators and courts across the country have attempted to limit distracted driving due to cell phone use by passing, and enforcing, a number of laws. Currently, approximately 25 states and Washington, D.C. have cell phone laws. Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia are among the states that ban the use of hand-held phones. Drivers are permitted to use cell phones only if they are “hands free,” meaning that they can only talk and listen to the phone while using hands free technology such as the car speakers or through a headset. Even this can be distracting. If you are using a headset and have the volume too loud, you may not hear an emergency vehicle approaching.
North Carolina currently allows drivers to talk on their phones while holding the phone. In 2019, the North Carolina House of Representatives approved a bill which would have banned the use of hand-held cell phones. However the bill did not pass in the North Carolina Senate. A similar bill, entitled “Hands Free NC Act, Senate Bill 20” was introduced in February 2021 which would require hands free driving and increased fines. Since the laws regarding cell phone usage vary from state-to-state it is important to know the laws of the state that you are driving in. Claiming that you are not aware of the laws of the state you are driving in will not prevent you from being fined as drivers are expected to be aware of the laws of the state they are driving in.
North Carolina makes it illegal:
- To use a cell phone to text or read emails while driving. This includes looking at texts or emails while sitting at a red light. Sitting at a red light is considered driving and could result in a ticket. Law enforcement officials and emergency responders are exempt.
- For anyone under the age of 18 to use a phone while driving. Underage drivers can use their phones while driving only in the case of an emergency.
- For school bus drivers to use a cell phone while driving. As with underage drivers, the exception is if there is an emergency.
North Carolina is a primary enforcement state which means that if a police officer sees you doing any of the above, he/she can pull you over. Drivers caught emailing or texting in violation of the law can receive a fine of $100. Drivers under the age of 18 caught using a cell phone can receive a fine of $25. School bus drivers caught using a cell phone while driving a bus can be fined $100.
What Damages are Available?
If you are injured in a car accident where the driver was distracted, what can you recover? Damages include:
- Medical bills. This includes doctors bills, hospital costs, ambulance costs, medicine, and rehabilitation. It can also include future losses for things such as additional surgeries.
- Lost wages - for time missed from work to recover from your injuries.
- Punitive damages. These are designed to punish the wrongdoer and deter future similar behavior.
Can You Still Recover Damages if You Were Distracted While Driving?
North Carolina is a contributory negligence state. That means that, in most cases, if you are injured in a car accident but are partially at fault for that car accident, you will not be able to recover damages. Using a cell phone while driving could lead to a finding that you were distracted which could lead to a finding of partial fault; you might not be able to recover damages.
Why Do I Need a Charlotte Law Firm?
Distracted driving cases are fact intensive, it can be difficult to show that a driver was distracted and that it caused an accident. The Charlotte, NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced car accident attorneys who can help you understand your rights and whether or not you have damages and should proceed with a claim. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.