By now you’re hopefully well aware of how dangerous drunk driving can be, thanks to many decades of increasing public awareness about the problem. Drunk driving was outlawed in New Jersey in 1906. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that law enforcement and government officials really began to crack down on intoxication offenses and sought to make the public aware of the dangers.
Today, we’re facing the problem of distracted driving.
There are many people out there who would never drink and drive because they’re aware of the dangers and they’re generally responsible, law-abiding citizens. Yet, those same people might think it’s fine to check a text, apply makeup in the rearview mirror, or reach for something on the floor of the back seat while driving. It’s not okay.
We know this because studies prove that a driver’s reaction time is lower when reading or writing a text than it is when impaired by alcohol. Researchers at Car and Driver performed a test to see how drivers’ reaction times were impacted by texting and driving, compared to drunk driving.
To perform the test, the car was fitted with a light mounted on the windshield that would simulate a car’s brake lights. The drivers were instructed to hit the brakes when the light went on. The test took place on an open runway with no obstacles, and the drivers were using typical phones.
Here’s what they found:
This data shows that both drivers’ reaction times were significantly slowed when texting (reading or writing) as compared to their baselines and reaction times while texting were higher than their reaction times when impaired by alcohol.
Although sometimes the differences are tenths or hundredths of a second, it’s significant because those hundredths of a second directly translate into the number of feet driven. So, for the additional 0.68 seconds of reaction time it took for one driver to write a text, his vehicle traveled 319 feet — which is practically the length of a football field.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 400,000 people were injured in crashes involving distracted driving in 2018, and 2,841 were killed.
And those are just the ones we know about.
It can be hard to determine whether a crash was caused by distracted driving. When a driver is drunk, there are scientific ways to prove their blood alcohol content (BAC) like Breathalyzer testing at the scene. But unless there’s a witness, it could be impossible to know what a driver was doing at the time of a crash.
The New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety reported that driver inattention was a major contributing factor in nearly 800,000 motor vehicle crashes from 2012 to 2016. The data also shows that “at any given daylight moment across America, approximately 416,000 drivers are using handheld cell phones.”
Distracted driving is when a driver performs any activity while behind the wheel that takes their attention away from the primary task of driving.
There are 3 types of distraction:
Distracted driving can include anything from eating or reaching for your coffee, to reaching into the backseat, applying makeup or shaving, looking in your mirror at your child in their car seat, playing loud music, or adjusting dashboard settings like climate control or sound.
Although each of these behaviors is distracting, using a cell phone is arguably the most dangerous (and most prevalent) form of distracted driving because it requires all 3 types of distraction at once — visual, manual, and cognitive.
A driver may use a handheld device while driving with a hand on the steering wheel only if:
A driver who is under 21 years old may not use either a hand-held or hands-free device while driving in New Jersey.
First offense: $200-$400 fine
Second offense: $400-$600 fine
Third or subsequent offense: $600-$800 fine, 3 motor vehicle points, possible 90-day license suspension
There will also be court costs in addition to these fines.
These are “primary offenses” under New Jersey law, which means you can be pulled over and ticketed for violating these laws even if you’re not committing any other infraction. If you’re driving while using a mobile device and injure another driver, passenger, pedestrian, or bicyclist, you could be charged with a crime or a felony.
If it’s a severe injury, you could face 6-18 months of jail time and up to a $10,000 fine. If the victim is killed, you could be charged with vehicular homicide. This would mean 5-10 years in jail and up to $150,000 in fines.
If you were injured by someone who was driving while distracted, you might be able to sue for damages. Sometimes, that could include not only the driver but also the person who texted the driver, if they knew that the driver was behind the wheel at the time when the text was received.
There are 2 ways you can recover damages after an accident with a distracted driver in New Jersey:
You can’t control other drivers on the road. But you can make sure you are doing your part to avoid distracted driving.
After any car accident, there are certain steps you can take to preserve your legal rights. But you also want to call a lawyer, especially if you suspect that the other driver was distracted. These cases can be hard to prove, and your lawyer will have experts, accident reconstruction professionals, access to phone records, and other strategies to demonstrate that the other driver was distracted.
For example, if the accident happened to be captured on a business or residential video surveillance system, the video might not be saved unless there’s a reason. If the business or homeowner doesn’t know that there’s potentially important footage, it could be automatically deleted within a few days. Likewise, if you have contact information for witnesses at the scene, it’s best to let your lawyer contact them — your lawyer might ask questions that you wouldn’t think to ask, and might seek clues that you’re not aware of.
If you need a New Jersey car accident lawyer, use the free Enjuris personal injury law firm directory as a resource to find the best attorney near you.