Distracted driving is now as prominent a safety issue as drunk or impaired driving. While intense public awareness campaigns, stricter penalties, and more attention by law enforcement has made a dent in drunk driving accidents and fatalities, the same cannot yet be said for distracted driving. In a minor incident on the Mass. Turnpike in early April, a state trooper was rear-ended by a motorist who was apparently distracted by his GPS device. Fortunately, the officer only suffered minor injuries. This mishap only underscores the risk that distracted driving poses. If a police officer can be the victim of distracted driving, then anyone else certainly can.
Because distracted driving is not just a nuisance but a dire threat to public safety, Governor Baker recently announced a new public safety awareness program with a TV ad that implores drivers to “Don’t be that guy.” This refers to the common sight of drivers with cell phone in hand or in their ear while traveling on the freeway or on a city street. If the driver strikes a pedestrian, bicyclist or another motorist because he was texting and not paying attention to driving or what was on the roadway, he is “the guy” whose irresponsible behavior caused the tragic accident. The governor’s campaign is backed by a grant of $300,000 for local and state police enforcement. April has also been proclaimed as National Distracted Safety Awareness Month.
Distracted driving encompasses a wide range of activities that motorists engage in that takes their focus and attention away from driving and being aware of road and traffic conditions. This includes eating, grooming, talking to passengers, working on a computer, reading, making or receiving phone calls, watching videos, and texting. Use of a smartphone while driving is the most prevalent distracted behavior or at least the most hazardous. Studies have consistently shown that users spend an average of 5 seconds texting, which is not unlike driving blindfolded for around 900 feet.
Massachusetts Distracted Driving
Under state law, Massachusetts drivers are prohibited from texting, writing, or reading their texts or emails while driving. However, you are still allowed to make phone calls on your handheld phone. State legislators have been pushing bills to ban all use of handheld devices for more than a decade but they always seem to stall in the house where a fair number of lawmakers reluctantly feel that such a law provides law enforcement a pretext to stop certain ethnic groups, or African-Americans, or is too much of an imposition on individual freedom.
But you cannot ignore the grim statistics. Fatal traffic accidents increased in Massachusetts between 2015 and 2016 by 12.8%, which was twice the national average for that time span. Nationally, traffic deaths have increased by 35% since 2008. Most of the increase is correlated to the increased use of smartphones. As part of the awareness campaign, state officials are urging the media to refrain from describing distracted driving crashes as “accidents.” When you drink and drive, or text and drive, you are knowingly and intentionally putting others at risk for your hazardous behavior. There is no longer any excuse for driving impaired or while distracted, and if a crash occurs, it is anything but an “accident.”.
Safe Cell Phone Use
The following are some tips put out by state officials for all motorists to follow when they bring their smartphones with them when driving:
- Turn your phone off and leave it off until you arrive at your destination
- If you have an iPhone, use the “Do Not Disturb While Driving” mode
- Before you leave, tell family members or friends that you will be driving and not to call or text for an hour or so
- If you must have your phone on, pull off to a safe location before you read your message or take the call
- If using your GPS, set it before you start driving
- On urban or suburban streets, be aware of pedestrians and bicyclists and stay out of bike lanes
Liability in a Distracted Driving Crash
If a distracted driver caused your injuries, call an experienced distracted driving lawyer from the law firm of Burns and Jain. In many crashes, it is not essential that you prove that the driver was texting or using his phone if a neutral witness observed the defendant suddenly swerve into your vehicle, fail to stop at a red traffic signal or stop sign, or strike a pedestrian who was lawfully crossing the street in crosswalk. But showing that the driver was inattentive because he was using his phone for some reason can contradict the defendant’s possible argument that you were partially or wholly at fault for causing your own injuries.
Occasionally, a witness can state that he saw the driver on the phone just moments before the accident. Your distracted driving lawyer, though, can subpoena the driver’s phone records and pinpoint the time when the accident occurred to when the driver was texting someone or was on a call.
If there was a fatal accident, then the administrator for the decedent’s estate could assert punitive damages against the defendant. Such damages may be awarded if the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent or showed a reckless indifference to the rights or safety of others. You may have to show that the driver was not only texting but traveling at a high rate of speed and had an elevated blood alcohol concentration level when the crash occurred to meet this standard.
Other damages in a distracted driving crash include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future income loss
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Permanent disability or disfigurement
- Spousal claim for loss of consortium
Retain a distracted driving lawyer from the law firm of Burns and Jain if you or a loved one was injured or killed by a distracted driver. Our attorneys have decades of experience in fighting for the rights of injured victims in impaired driving, distracted driving, or other negligent conduct crashes. Call our office at (617) 227-7423 to schedule a free consultation about your injury claim.