Delaware is one of several states that has strict texting while driving laws
Distracted driving isn't just a national issue, it’s a problem in Delaware too. Between 2018 and 2022, there were 9,860 crashes, 90 serious injuries, and 25 fatalities involving distracted driving in Delaware.
Distracted driving poses a significant risk to public safety on Delaware’s roads.
In this article, we’ll discuss the dangers of distracted driving, the laws governing this behavior in Delaware, and how victims of distracted driving accidents can seek compensation. We’ll also provide some practical tips on how to avoid being a distracted driver and what to do in the aftermath of an accident caused by a distracted driver.
What is distracted driving?
Distracted driving occurs when a driver’s attention is diverted from the primary task of operating a vehicle.
The three main types of distractions are:
- Cognitive: taking your mind off driving.
- Visual: taking your eyes off the road.
- Manual: Taking your hands off the wheel.
The most common example of distracted driving is texting and driving. Texting while driving is particularly distracting because it involves all three types of distractions. Nevertheless, there are some less talked about examples of distracted driving, which include:
- Adjusting the radio
- Talking to passengers
- Observing scenery
- Using a navigation system
In a tragic real-life example, John Doe (name changed for privacy reasons) was involved in a crash caused by a distracted driver in 2018. John was driving along Route 1 near Middletown, Delaware, when another driver, who was texting at the time, swerved into John’s lane and collided with his vehicle. The impact resulted in severe injuries, including multiple fractures and a spinal cord injury that left John paralyzed.
John ultimately settled the case out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Delaware distracted driving laws
Delaware’s distracted driving laws are codified in Title 21, Section 4176C of the Delaware Code.
The law prohibits drivers from using handheld electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle. This includes texting, browsing the internet, and making or receiving phone calls without using a hands-free device.
An exception exists for people using a handheld electronic device to report a fire, traffic accident, serious road hazard, or some other emergency.
Drivers caught using a handheld device will be fined $100 for their first offense. Subsequent offenses will be no less than $200 and no more than $300.
In 2011, Delaware became the 30th state in the nation to have a texting ban and the 8th to also ban the use of hand held cell phones.
Delaware distracted driving statistics
Distracted driving is a national problem. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving claimed the lives of 3,522 people in 2021 (up from 3,142 in 2020).
Drivers spend, on average, 1:38 minutes on their phone per hour of driving, according to a report by Cambridge Mobile Telematics. Across the country, cell phones were involved in 12 percent of all car crashes.
Unfortunately, Delawareans are not immune from distracted driving.
According to the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, there were 165 traffic fatalities on Delaware roads in 2022, tying a record high year set in 1988. Distracted driving crashes are often underreported, but the most recent data shows that in Delaware, between 2018 and 2022, there were 9,860 crashes, 90 serious injuries, and 25 fatalities involving distracted driving.
“Distracted driving is one of the leading contributing factors to the increasing trends in fatalities on Delaware roads today,” said Kimberly Chesser, Director of the Delaware Office of Highway Safety. “People know texting and driving is dangerous and often illegal, but they do it anyway, and it puts others at risk.”
How to recover damages after a distracted driving accident
Delaware is a fault-based insurance state, meaning the at-fault party is responsible for damages resulting from an accident. To establish fault, victims in distracted driving accidents must typically prove three elements of negligence:
- Duty: The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, such as exercising reasonable care to avoid harming others on the road.
- Breach: The defendant breached their duty of care (e.g., texting while driving or adjusting the radio).
- Causation: The plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the defendant’s breach of the standard of care.
If the defendant received a citation for violating Delaware’s distracted driving law, they will be presumed negligent and bear the burden of proving they didn’t cause the accident.
Notably, Delaware follows a modified comparative fault rule, which means that a plaintiff can recover damages as long as they are less than 51 percent at fault for the accident. However, their recovery will be reduced by their percentage of fault.
For example, if you’re hit by a distracted driver, but you were driving with your headlights off on a rainy day, the jury might find that you were 20 percent at fault for the crash. Accordingly, your damage award would be reduced by 20 percent.
Steps to take after a distracted driving accident
If you’re involved in an accident with a distracted driver, your first priority should be to seek medical attention. Once your immediate health needs have been addressed, consider taking the following steps:
- Report the accident to the police and obtain a copy of the police report.
- Gather evidence, such as photographs of the accident scene and witness statements.
- Notify your insurance company of your accident.
- Avoid apologizing or admitting fault to the other driver, the insurance companies, or the police.
- Consult with a personal injury attorney to protect your rights and interests.
Seven tips to avoid distracted driving
A study led by David Greenfield, a University of Connecticut Medical School professor, surveyed 1,000 drivers and found that 98 percent of those who text and drive frequently say the practice is dangerous. Still, nearly 75 percent say they do it anyway.
The addictive lure of texting is similar to gambling. The buzz of an incoming text message causes the release of dopamine in the brain, which generates excitement.
With all of this in mind, here are seven tips to help you avoid distracted driving.
- Put away your phone: Whether it’s legal or not, a phone call is not worth your life. Consider putting your phone out of reach and turning on the “Do Not Disturb” feature while driving.
- Set up your GPS beforehand: Program your navigation system before you start your journey to avoid fiddling with it while driving. If you need to make adjustments, pull over before doing so.
- Limit passenger interactions: Engaging in conversations or attending to passengers can be distracting. Set ground rules for passengers, especially children, to minimize disruptions and maintain focus on the road.
- Manage food and drink: Refrain from eating or drinking while driving, as it requires you to take your hands off the wheel and your eyes off the road. If necessary, stop at a rest area or parking lot.
- Adjust controls before driving: Adjust mirrors, seats, climate control, and the radio before setting off to minimize distractions while in motion.
- Get organized: Keep necessary items within easy reach, such as sunglasses or toll money, to reduce the need to search for them while driving.
- Pull over for urgent matters: If you need to address an urgent issue or simply cannot wait to use your phone, find a safe place to pull over and park before doing so.
Distracted driving is a serious and preventable problem on Delaware's roads. By understanding the laws, statistics, and consequences, you can help make the roads safer for everyone.
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