Texting and driving isn’t just a “teenager problem.” It’s everyone’s problem.
As many of us rely more heavily on our mobile phones for all kinds of reasons — texting, calls, GPS, music, podcasts, banking, weather, reminders, and more — there’s a lot of temptation to sneak a peek at your phone when you should be focusing on something else... like driving.
Mobile device use is indisputably a huge hazard when you’re behind the wheel, but it’s not the only one.
Distracted driving is any action that meets one of these 3 criteria:
Distracted driving could include (but isn’t limited to) eating, adjusting dashboard controls like temperature or radio, reaching for an item on the passenger seat or floor, paying attention to a passenger in the back seat (or anywhere, if their behavior is distracting), personal grooming like shaving or applying makeup, reading directions, or using an electronic device.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 3,166 people were killed by distracted drivers in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available.
Source: NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts
The New York Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research (ISTMR) conducted significant research into New York phone-related crashes in recent years.
ISTMR defines a “cell phone crash” as one (or more) of the following:
In 2018, there were 278 NY police-reported fatalities or personal injury crashes where cell phone use was a contributing factor. That figure represents an increase of nearly 18% from 2014.
|Violation||Minimum fine||Maximum fine|
|Second offense within 18 months||$50||$250|
|Third or subsequent offense within 18 months||$50||$450|
There can also be surcharges up to $93 for any violation.
There are additional penalties for certain types of drivers:
You might think that you’re an excellent, alert driver who can sneak a peek at a text or send a quick one while behind the wheel and you’ll be fine.
If you’ve done this, you’ve been lucky. Most of us know that drunk driving is tremendously dangerous and we’d never do it. But studies show that texting and driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving.
Car and Driver performed a test of experienced drivers to see how reaction times were impacted by texting and driving as compared to drinking and 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.
Take a look at their findings:
|Test||Driver #1 (age 22)||Driver #2 (age 37)|
|When driving 35 miles per hour|
|Baseline reaction time||0.45 seconds||0.57 seconds|
|Reading a text||0.57 seconds (extra 21 feet)||1.44 seconds|
|Writing a text||0.52 seconds (extra 16 feet)||1.36 seconds|
|Alcohol-impaired||0.46 seconds||0.64 seconds|
|When driving 70 miles per hour|
|Baseline reaction time||0.39 seconds||0.56 seconds|
|Reading a text||0.50 seconds (extra 30 feet)||0.91 seconds (extra 90 feet)|
|Writing a text||0.48 seconds (extra 31 feet)||0.68 seconds (extra 319 feet)|
|Alcohol-impaired||0.50 seconds (extra 15 feet)||0.60 seconds|
These results demonstrate that reading and writing texts slows reaction time just as much (if not more) than driving drunk.
Is that a risk you want to take?
And yet lots of people do. Although officials continue to promote distracted driving awareness campaigns, it continues to be a problem. The New York State Thruway has installed 12 text stops along the highway where drivers can safely pull over to use their phones, in addition to 27 service areas and 3 welcome centers.
It’s hard to prove whether the driver of the other vehicle in a collision was distracted. If you pursue a personal injury lawsuit, your lawyer might be able to obtain records from the driver’s cell carrier that can show whether the phone was actively in use at the time of the crash. However, other distractions (eating, radio, etc.) are harder to prove because no one would know for sure if, for example, a driver was taking a big bite of a sandwich at the time they hit your car.
Initially, you’d treat it like any other car crash by making a claim to your own no-fault insurance policy. In New York, you’re required to have no-fault personal physical injury insurance.
You can file a claim against the at-fault driver if your injury meets certain requirements. These requirements are:
If your injuries meet one or more of these requirements, you can pursue a third-party insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit.
No-fault insurance rules apply only with respect to personal physical injury (i.e. medical benefits) coverage. They don’t apply to pain and suffering or other non-financial damages or property damage.
You want to be sure that you protect your right to recover full damages for your injuries if you were in a collision with a distracted driver. There are 2 important issues to act on as quickly as possible after an accident:
A personal injury claim is based on establishing negligence. Negligence is when a person or entity has a duty of care to a plaintiff, and their action (or inaction) is a breach of duty that causes the plaintiff to be injured.
Every driver has a duty of care to anyone who shares the road — other drivers, pedestrians, or bicyclists. Collisions happen that are “true” accidents — for instance, all drivers were being careful, following the rules of the road, and driving safely, but maybe someone made a poor judgment or some other action that caused a crash.
But if a driver was negligent, the plaintiff deserves to receive compensation for their injuries. If a driver was distracted, your lawyer can make the argument that they were negligent per se.
Negligence per se is when the defendant acted in a way that violated a law or rule designed specifically to prevent the injury that happened. In other words, laws that make distracted driving illegal are specifically intended to prevent those kinds of accidents. If a person was driving distracted and caused an accident, that person is presumed liable because they were violating a law designed to prevent that from happening.
A negligence per se claim allows the plaintiff to shift focus away from liability and more on how much compensation they should be entitled to.
This is important because New York follows a comparative negligence system. Sometimes the plaintiff shares some degree of liability for the accident. If you’re awarded damages, the court would reduce the amount of damages you receive according to the amount of liability you have for the accident.
Look at it like this:
In many distracted driving cases, you can receive damages to cover the cost of your injuries from an accident. As mentioned above, your first claim is to your own personal injury protection (PIP) policy, which will cover injuries other than those that are very severe.
If the accident results in very serious injury or those not covered by PPI insurance, your insurance company can make a claim against the other driver’s insurance.
That claim can include:
If the settlement offered by the insurance company is lower than what you believe you deserve, or if the accident was severe enough that you require compensation for pain and suffering or emotional distress, you’ll need to pursue a personal injury lawsuit. The insurance company only covers physical injury treatment, lost wages, and property loss.
We’ve talked a lot about how you can be affected by someone else’s distracted driving, but there are also things you can do to make sure that you are not distracted behind the wheel:
Phone records can show whether a driver was actively using their phone, but that’s only one aspect to distracted driving. If they were looking for a song in their playlist, checking to see if a text arrived, or distracted in another way, there’s no way to prove it unless a witness saw them with a phone in hand.
And, remember that phones are only one type of distraction. If they were handing their child a snack in the back seat or adding sugar to their coffee when the accident happened, that’s going to be hard to prove.
An experienced car accident lawyer will investigate the accident to make the most effective arguments for you to receive the most compensation available. If you have very severe or ongoing medical issues, your lawyer will also consult with medical experts, actuaries, and financial professionals to get an accurate accounting of how much money you’ll need to cover your current and future expenses — not just the costs you already have paid or owe.