57 percent half of distracted driving crashes in Long Island occur when drivers are talking to passengers, not when they are talking on their cellphones.
In contrast, only 12 percent of these crashes are related to “phone use,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This category is not limited to talking, because it also includes texting, surfing the Web, using apps, and almost all other phone uses. To explain the discrepancy, researchers opine that whereas cellphone users compensate by holding the phone above the steering wheel or driving more slowly, they make no such allowances while conversing with passengers. In fact, the opposite is sometimes true, because some people drive faster when they are angry.
Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, suggested that regulators need to take a “broader approach” to distracted driving, and not limit their attention to cellphones.
Legal Issues in Distracted Driving Cases
Cellphones get most of the attention in the distracted driving realm because these devices combine all three forms of distraction, which are:
- Manual (taking at least one hand off the wheel)
- Cognitive (thinking about anything other than driving)
- Visual (taking at least one hand off the road)
Technology makes many things safer, but distracted driving is one area where technology may make things worse. There is considerable evidence that hands-free devices are worse than hand-held gadgets, because although drivers can avoid manual distraction while using them, they are still taking at least one eye off the road and thinking about something other than driving. Moreover, some researchers believe that hands-free devices give drivers a false sense of security.
Victims who are seriously injured in distracted driving-related motor vehicle crashes are typically entitled to compensation for their economic damages, such as lost wages, and noneconomic damages, such as emotional distress. Punitive damages are also available, in some cases.
Proving Distracted Driving in New York
Drivers have a duty of reasonable care, so they do not have to be perfect. Almost everyone adjusts the climate control system, converses with passengers, changes the radio station, and undertakes other non-driving tasks on practically every trip, so distracted driving is not automatically a breach of the duty of reasonable care.
It is typically up to a jury to draw the line between reasonable and unreasonable behavior. For example, a superficial, on-again/off-again conversation is probably not a breach of duty, but a heated argument or similar exchange probably does create liability.
Sometimes, if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) violated a statute, there is already a line in the sand. All New York courts agree that the violation of a traffic law constitutes negligence per se (negligence “as such”), which means that, in these instances, the plaintiff does not have to prove three of the five elements in a standard distracted driving negligence case (duty, breach, and proximate cause). However, courts are somewhat divided as to the effect of negligence per se: some courts consider it absolute proof of negligence, while in other cases, negligence per se only creates a rebuttable presumption of negligence.
New York has rather broad cellphone laws which prohibit using, and in some cases even reaching for, cellphones and any other handheld electronic devices. While a violation of Section 1225(c) or (d) establishes negligence as a matter of law, the affect may vary by jurisdiction.
Distracted driving-related crashes cause serious injuries every day. For a free consultation with an assertive attorney in Long Island, contact the Law Office of Cohen and Jaffe, LLP. Attorneys can arrange for victims to receive ongoing medical care, even if they have no money and no insurance.
- Washington Post – This surprising activity is more dangerous than using your phone while driving
- CDC – Distracted Driving
- NSC – National Safety Council poll: 8 in 10 drivers mistakenly believe hands-free cell phones are safer