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Distracted Driving Accidents – Who Is at Fault?

75rdig7o.jpgDistracted driving has gained national attention as a serious public hazard. The term typically refers to the use of a cell phone or other mobile communication device that takes a driver’s attention off the road. Distracted driving now accounts for a significant percentage of total accidents in the U.S. The risks of distracted driving are important to understand, as are the rights of people injured by a distracted driver. Driving while distracted constitutes a clear breach of a driver’s duty to operate a vehicle safely and cautiously, making the driver liable for negligence. In situations where a driver is operating a vehicle as part of his or her employment duties, the law may also impute liability to the driver’s employer.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), a private safety advocacy organization, distracted driving involving cell phones accounted for about twenty-four percent of all car crashes in 2010. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) the government agency that regulates automobile safety, states that distracted driving accounted for 3,092 automobile fatalities that same year. Cell phones frequently serve as evidence in both police investigations and civil suits to establish a driver’s negligence. The NSC describes three types of distraction, visual, manual, and cognitive, that may result from cell phone use while driving. Even the use of a hands-free device may not reduce cognitive distraction.

Many states, counties, and cities have enacted bans on various forms of distracted driving. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a federal agency that investigates accidents and makes safety recommendations, has called for a nationwide ban on all cell phone use while driving. Currently, no jurisdiction has such a ban. Ten states and the District of Columbia ban all use of handheld cell phones while driving. Thirty-nine states and D.C. ban texting by all drivers. Total bans on all cell phone use apply to novice drivers in thirty-two states and D.C., and to school bus drivers in nineteen states and D.C. Florida, unlike most states, has no bans on cell phone use at all. State law in Florida actually preempts local governments from enacting their own laws regulating cell phone use.

In most accidents involving a distracted driver, that driver is at fault for the accident and is therefore liable for any injuries the accident caused. As awareness of the problem of distracted driving increases, employers have begun to review their own exposure to liability when their employees are on the road. In situations where a person driving on the job causes an accident, the employer could be liable under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior. Usually, the person must be performing a specific work duty, but courts have creatively applied the rule. Bloomberg reports on a case where a court held a driver and her employer liable because she was driving a company car and having a telephone conversation related to business at the time of the accident. Another court held an off-duty police officer liable for a fatal crash caused by his distraction because he was driving a patrol car.

The South Florida injury attorneys at Cohn & Smith help recover compensation for people who have suffered injury due to the negligence or unlawful conduct of others. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers, contact us today online, or call (954) 431- 8100, or at (305) 624-9186.

Web Resources:

Employer Liability and the Case for Comprehensive Cell Phone Policies (PDF), National Safety Council, 2012

More Blog Posts:

Texting and Driving, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, July 24, 2011
Risks of texting and driving, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, April 6, 2011
State Dedicates Stretch of Highway to Victim of Texting and Driving Semi Truck Crash, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, January 7, 2011
Photo credit: Via ifaketext.com.

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