Houston Distracted Driving Accident Attorneys
Helping Injured Motorists in Houston, Texas & Nationwide
In 2010, 3,000+ victims died as a result of distracted driving accidents. Although distracted driving does not account for the majority of vehicular deaths per year, it does contribute significantly to the number of injuries. Although individual states have enacted many laws regarding distracted driving, most drivers continue with such practices. Those most at risk for causing a distracted driving accident are drivers under the age of 20, who with their inexperience combined with distraction cause accidents more frequently than other groups of people.
Were you injured in an accident with a distracted driver? Contact an injury attorney at our Houston law office today!
What Causes Distracted Driving
Distracted driving happens anytime a person’s complete attention is completely focused on driving safely. Today, it’s often associated with cell phone use. Whether it is texting while driving, talking on the phone, or using a looking up something online, cell phone use is clearly a primary force behind distracted driving accidents.
However, there are many other distractions inside a vehicle that can lead to an accident as well:
- GPS use
- Audio systems
- Eating or drinking
- Other passengers
Anything that takes a driver's attention is a distraction, and that can increase the likelihood of a collision.
Three Main Types of Distractions
When it comes to driving a car, truck, or other motor vehicle, you need to have your full attention on the task at hand. Distractions take some or all of your attention from driving, and this is what causes serious collisions. A driver who is distracted might not see a change in traffic or an object or animal in the road. A distracted driver may take longer to respond to a traffic light or curve in the road. A distracted driver may drive off the road completely if they take their attention off driving for even a few seconds.
A distraction will affect at least one of the following:
- Visual Attention: This refers to a driver's eyes on the road. When you're behind the wheel, you need to be watching the road, checking your mirrors, and paying attention at all times to watch for changes in traffic, stopped vehicles, traffic signals, and more. If your visual attention is affected even for a second or two, this can be enough to cause a serious collision.
- Mental Attention: To put it simply, you should be thinking about driving while you're driving. Your mental attention should be on the task at hand. If you're thinking about something else, you are more likely to miss a turn, drive right by your exit, or make a critical error in judgment that ends up causing a crash.
- Manual Attention: This refers to keeping your hands on the steering wheel. You need both hands to be in complete control. Even if you can steer effectively with just one hand, think about what might happen if you do not have your other hand free to signal or honk your horn in an emergency. Keep your hands at the ready so you can drive safely and respond to any situation.
Some distractions affect all three forms of attention. These are the most dangerous, such as texting while driving, which will take visual attention off the road, mental attention from driving, and one or both hands from the wheel. Preventing these distractions is the best way to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
Per the NHTSA, the chief causes of distracted driving accidents are cell phone use, reaching for an object in the car, looking at something else (such as rubbernecking), reading, and applying makeup. Many people assume that practice makes perfect and that if they are used to multi-tasking while driving then they will be safe. Quite the contrary is true. Statistics show that those who drive distracted more frequently are at a higher risk for an accident.
Injuries in Distracted Driving Accidents
A distracted driver can cause catastrophic injuries or claim another’s life as a result of their carelessness. They may directly strike pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycles, or other vehicles, or they may drive erratically and cause others to crash. An example may be a distracted driver who veers into oncoming traffic. In an attempt to avoid a head-on collision, the other motorist may have to swerve off the side of the road or even into another vehicle.
A distracted driving accident in Houston may cause:
- Acceleration/deceleration injuries
- Broken bones
- Internal injuries and organ damage
- Crush injuries
- Severe burns
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Severe cuts and bruises
- Emotional trauma
The type and severity of injuries experienced in a distracted driving accident will depend on various factors, such as the force and location of impact, the size of the vehicles involved, and the crashworthiness of the vehicles. Seat belt use, airbags, and other safety features will also play a part.
Is Distracted Driving Against the Law?
There is no specific law in the books that prohibits distracted driving, but texting while driving is illegal in Texas. Other types of distracted driving, like eating or reaching for an object, are not specifically prohibited by law. This means that a driver is unlikely to get a ticket or face criminal charges for causing an auto accident while distracted unless they were texting. They can, however, be held accountable for what they have done in civil court.
Victims of distracted driving accidents can file personal injury lawsuits against motorists or others whose behavior or decisions caused their collisions.
Accidents Caused by Drivers Texting While Driving
Did you know nearly 20% of all traffic fatalities each year could be avoided had it not been for a driver who was texting while driving? This is shocking, especially considering that texting and driving have been outlawed in most states. In Texas, all "novice" drivers (license for less than a year) are banned from using cells while driving in any capacity. Texas has also banned texting and driving for bus drivers and drivers in school zones. While texting may not be outlawed for every driver, it can be considered negligence if it contributes to a collision.
NHTSA has provided the most commonly-used analogy to represent the dangers of texting while driving:
"Texting…involves manual, visual, and cognitive distraction simultaneously. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field while blindfolded."
34 states and the District of Columbia currently have laws prohibiting people from driving while texting. In 31 states, it's considered a primary offense, which means an officer can pull you over just for texting. Don't think that means people aren't still doing it. A study released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in December of 2011 reveals that the percentage of drivers who texted while driving increased from 0.6 % of drivers in 2009 to 0.9 % in 2010. In New York, where texting and driving were only made a primary offense in July 2011, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) had issued 4,634 tickets for the crime by the middle of September.
If so many of us are doing it, can texting while driving really be that dangerous?
The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding yes. In the same study that revealed the percentage of drivers who text and drive, the NHTSA found that reading or writing texts behind the wheel increases your chances of having an accident by 2300%! About 6,000 deaths and half a million injuries are caused by distracted drivers every year. Many of these deaths involve accidents with large trucks. In general, a truck accident is more likely to result in a fatality due to the vehicle's sheer size. A distracted truck driver is 23.2 times more likely to crash than a driver paying full attention to the road. Considering that, you can quickly see how deadly a problem it can become.
Young Drivers & Cell Phones
Another worrisome statistic is a majority of drivers who choose to text while driving are typically between the ages of 16 to 24. More than half of all teenagers who own cell phones between the ages of 16 and 17 say they frequently text or talk on the phone while driving, per research from the Pew Research Foundation. Drivers between the ages of 16 and 24 are considered "inexperienced" and at a higher risk for being in an accident. Combine inexperience with distraction and it is a recipe for disaster. Research also seems to indicate that teenagers who are passengers being driven by other teenagers who text and drive are less likely to speak up about texting. When other teens don't speak up, it can translate into a texting and driving accident that could end up costing them their lives.
Statistics on Distracted Driving & Cell Phone Use
According to the NHTSA, distracted driving killed a total of 3,166 people in 2017. The organization defines distracted driving as any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on the phone. Distracted driving caused by cell phones decreased by about 0.4 percent between 2016 and 2017. However, cell phone usage during fatal distracted driving accidents has increased from 12 percent to 14 percent of all distracted driving incidents since 2012. While this does mean that distraction from cell phones has decreased slightly, the devices still account for the same percentage of overall accidents. Even though accidents caused by cell phones are occurring at a consistently increasing percentage, the NHTSA has also found that cell phone use is becoming less common amongst all age groups. The administration notes that the rate of cell phone use for drivers aged 16 to 24 has decreased by 4.5 percent, 2.9 percent for ages 25 to 60, and 0.5 percent for those 70 and over.
Why Cell Phone Use While Driving Has Declined
The Insurance Information Institute attributes declines in cellphone use to state laws that prohibit cell phones or other types of electronic devices from being used while driving. As of June of 2019, 19 states had laws prohibiting talking on a hand-held device. However, some posit these laws mostly increase awareness and do little to prevent accidents. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety claims that the best way to reduce distracted driving accidents is by using crash avoidance technology in more cars. While the IIHS does not suggest repealing cell phone laws, it does suggest that there might be more effective technological answers for the decline in crashes.
IIHS has research to back its theory. In Virginia, the organization found that even though phone usage has dropped in the state, drivers are engaging in riskier behavior in the moments they give into checking their device. Drivers in Virginia are spending more time manipulating their phones and focused on them. Experts found that these drivers are at risk of crashing which is 2 to 3.5 times higher than other phone users.
Where Does Distracted Driving Occur Most?
Studies reveal that almost 70% of all car accidents occur 10 miles from a driver’s home. This is primarily due to distracted driving. Rather than focus on the speed limit, traffic around them, or driving etiquette, drivers think about things they need to do, places they need to go, and what they are going to eat. As a result, their muscles relax, their mind is at ease, and their senses are dulled. This gives drivers a false sense of security, even though they are still traveling down the road. They are ignorant of their immediate surroundings because the background is so familiar. This makes drivers who are close to home some of the most distracted operators on the road.
Drivers in a new area by themselves are another category of people who may be distracted while driving. A driver in a new area will have increased “driving sense” due to being in an unfamiliar location. However, despite their heightened driving sensitivity, other variables will nullify those amplified perceptions. A driver in a new area may be looking at their map to make sure they are going the right way, or they may be trying to read road signs that they are unfamiliar with. Any time a driver focuses on these things, they are driving distracted.
Texting & Driving Rules for Commercial Drivers
While texting and driving is illegal in nearly all states, there are few that only enforce these rules on novice drivers, if at all. With recent reports continuing to shed light on the severe danger of texting and driving, it seems like it may only be a matter of time before bans are in place across the country. Some research has even shown that texting while driving results in nearly 24 times the risk for accidents involving commercial vehicle drivers.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has decided to step in and take action to help prevent texting and driving accidents. Specifically, they have published new rules that restrict texting while driving or use of a hand-held mobile device for all truck drivers operating a CMV.
The penalties and consequences for texting while driving vary depending on the state the offense took place, the number of offenses a driver has committed, and any other contributing factors. In general, truck or bus drivers found to be texting while operating their commercial vehicle can expect to face rather steep penalties.
The following may be enforced for texting while driving a CMV:
- Driver disqualification for 120 days
- Fines ranging up to $2,750
- Up to $11,000 in fines for employers allowing / requiring hand-held devices
For commercial motor vehicle drivers who have multiple texting while driving offenses on their record, disqualification by the FMCSA is a serious possibility. This could mean loss of livelihood for truck drivers, demonstrate the seriousness with which the FMCSA is approaching texting while driving violations.
How Distracted Driving Can Be Prevented
The most unfortunate thing about distracted driving accidents is that they are entirely avoidable.
Here are some basic tips to keep in mind that will help you avoid an accident due to distractions:
- Turn off your cell phone and stow it away – As soon as you get in the car, either turn your phone off or put it on silent mode. Then place it in the glove department or another area of the car that is out of reach. If your phone is off and out of reach, it is much easier to resist the temptation to use it while you are behind the wheel.
- If you must use your phone, pull over – Of course, there will be times when you absolutely need to make a phone call, respond to an email, or look up an address on your smartphone. When that happens, pull over to a safe location to use your phone.
- Start your GPS guidance before you drive – If you use a GPS system to map your route, enter your destination before you start driving.
- Do not eat or drink while driving – It can be tempting to snack in the car, but multitasking slows down your reaction time. Save snacks for when you get to your destination or pull over before you eat.
- Don’t allow your pets to roam free in the car – Many people like to let their pets sit in their lap or roam the cabin freely, but pets can be a major source of distractions while driving. Always make sure your pet is caged and secure while the vehicle is moving.
- Mind your kids – Small children in the backseat can often provide distractions to the driver. If a situation arises with your children that requires your attention, pull over and address it before getting back on the road.
- Stay focused – Even if you avoid obvious distractions, people still tend to let their minds wander or daydream. Make sure that you are always focused on the task at hand and aware of your surroundings. Remember, even if you are not distracted, there is no guarantee that other drivers are not. By always staying alert, you will be in a better position to avoid a potential accident.
- Don't let others drive distracted – You can prevent distracted driving even if you are not behind the wheel. As a passenger, don't distract the driver. If you notice that a driver is distracted, ask that they put their attention back on the road. Whether this is a family member, a friend, or a rideshare driver, you'll be doing the right thing.
Houston Distracted Driving Crashes: Who’s Responsible
A thorough review of physical evidence and witness accounts can paint a clear picture of how a distracted driver caused an accident. This information can be used to seek compensation from that driver’s auto insurance policy, but there may be other sources to consider as well. With distracted driving accidents involving large trucks, buses, or other commercial vehicles, the driver’s employer may share some of the blame for failing to implement proper training or safety practices. Our team always considers every potential at-fault party and source of compensation to pursue the full and fair value of a client’s case. This is necessary if our client is to rebuild and move on.
How Hiring a Houston Distracted Driving Attorney Can Help
If you were injured in an accident caused by a distracted driver, you should speak with Houston car accident attorneys. At Arnold & Itkin, we're here to help those injured due to the negligence of another. Those who drive distracted should be made accountable. Depending on your accident's severity, you could be suffering from chronic pain. You may also need compensation for lost wages or compensation for rehabilitation costs.
Whatever the particulars of your case, it would be best to speak with an attorney from our firm so that you can find out exactly what options you have. Contact us today!