Orlando Car Accidents Caused By Distracted Driving, Including Texting While Driving, And Other Distractions
Since I am an Orlando personal injury attorney, I have had many clients who were victims in accidents caused by distracted driving. Distracted driving includes all sorts of distractions, such as texting, eating food, and even talking on a bluetooth (hands free) phone while driving. I genuinely believe the facts about auto accident cases caused by texting or talking on a cell phone, or using any other technological devices while driving, would both surprise and scare just about anyone. Even if you have thankfully been spared the agony of a distracted driving accident, learning the facts might help you and your family stay safe on the roads.
(If you were involved in an accident caused by texting and driving, you might want to read about how I handle cases, as an Orlando car accident lawyer, including how I try to help all of my clients get the most money possible from their car accident cases.)
Distracted Driving Caused By Cell Phone Usage: The Numbers
The statistics are staggering. Even worse, the personal stories behind the grim numbers are unquestionably heart-breaking. After reviewing stats from numerous different sources, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, I would give a ballpark estimate that nearly twenty percent (i.e., a huge number) of all fatal and non-fatal injury auto accident crashes are caused by distracted driving. Unfortunately, the statistics regarding young driving victims and culprits are even worse. So without very strong guidance and unbending rules, teenagers and young adults are and will remain extremely vulnerable to this widespread and exceptionally serious danger.
These numbers are not the least bit surprising when you consider the oft repeated fact that sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes away from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, which, at 55 mph, is not one bit different from driving the entire length of a football field wearing a blindfold. Seriously. Stop for a second and imagine that you and your family members regularly drive in the opposite direction of many drivers, a mere four feet and one powerless yellow line away, moving a couple of tons of steel, who absolutely are not watching the road for that lengthy distance. Is that okay with you?
Really Sad Story For Cyclists and Pedestrians
Although total traffic deaths have declined nationwide in recent years, the opposite holds true for the most innocent and vulnerable on our streets, that is, bicyclists and pedestrians. For example, a 2013 study in Public Health Reports found that the fatality rate caused by distracted driving jumped forty five percent for pedestrians from 2005 to 2010 and a still scary thirty two percent for cyclists.
These Numbers Really Hit Home
As a runner, cyclist and Orlando car accident lawyer who is keenly aware of this increasing and very real danger, smartphones in vehicles give me more concern for myself and my family than any other vehicle safety related issue by a long, long shot. These days, running or biking on road shoulders, to me, are akin to playing Russian Roulette, only with better odds. So I stick to off-road trails whenever possible, despite my strong personal belief that I should not have to alter healthy habits to protect myself from unhealthy ones.
What Exactly Is Distracted Driving?
Most of us know that texting while driving is dangerous, although studies show that many of us think that we are the exception to the rule, meaning we think that distracted driving does not impair our own driving, only the driving of others. In any event, distracted driving includes many extremely dangerous on-road activities other than texting while driving, or talking on the cell phone while driving, such as eating or drinking, applying make-up, reading (including maps), using a navigation system, watching a video, adjusting the radio, talking to a passenger, being upset, or even more intensive activities such as surfing the Internet, faxing, or operating a laptop computer.
So Why The Hyper Focus On Cell Phone Usage & Texting While Driving in Orlando?
Including Talking On A Cell Phone While Driving, And/Or Using Other Technological Devices?
Cell phone use, including texting while driving and talking while driving, is admittedly only one subset of a much larger category of dangerous, distracted driving activities. But the problem is that greater technological advances are causing nearly everyone to have access to these uniquely and regularly tempting devices in their vehicles. So all government agencies and safety organizations studying this problem believe that cell phone and technological distractions represent the most dangerous yet most commonly accepted form of roadway distraction.
What’s Happening With New Driving & Information Technology?
Many new vehicles include devices that allow users to connect with their phone and various online platforms via hands free devices, voice commands or touch screen displays featured on dashboard consoles. For example, almost all new Ford vehicles include Sync, which allows hands free operation of phone and mobile media devices. Chevy has something similar, called MyLink, which includes both touch screen and voice command options. This is a dangerous development, which likely will, and rightly should, lead to a greater number of product liability cases. Nifty new devices are only great if they are also safe, which despite their undeniable convenience, unfortunately I do not believe these new devices qualify.
Shouldn’t Orlando Cell Phone Carriers Share Some Of The Blame?
Although many cell phone carriers have the technology to stop phones from working while they are traveling in cars, they have not yet programmed the phones in this way, largely because they cannot find a way to simultaneously allow passengers to use their cell phones.
Plaintiffs attorneys have had little success when attempting to hold cell phone carriers liable, on the basis of failure to warn (at least that I could find based on admittedly incomplete nationwide case law research). Nevertheless, I urge all personal injury attorneys to continue at least considering product liability claims against cell phone carriers in other jurisdictions, including failure to warn but also possibly defective design. After all, how are cell phone carriers any less culpable than cigarette producers, particularly considering that distracted driving accidents regularly involve completely innocent victims?
Deceptive Campaign To Thwart Future Potential Liability?
Many mobile phone carriers have joined together in a campaign to raise awareness regarding distracted driving. However, the cynic inside me genuinely believes that they have merely been laying the groundwork for their own defense in future anticipated lawsuits. So, despite their expensive self-serving campaign, I don’t think judges or juries should forgive carriers which continue not developing and/or employing technology that would stop or greatly decrease driving and cell phone usage.
Florida Texting While Driving Laws: Are They Good Enough?
Almost every state (save 3) has instituted laws prohibiting texting while driving. That’s the good news. However, the very bad news is that most of these partial or complete bans lack any real bite. Take Florida, for example, where texting while driving is only a secondary offense, and the fine for a first offense totals an unremarkable $30. Alaska gets the award for taking this problem most seriously, with a maximum $10,000 fine and up to 1 year in prison for a first offense. (You can review charts summarizing all of the state texting while driving laws here and here.)
Hands Free Is Legal Everywhere, Including Orlando, But Should It Be?
Perhaps an even bigger problem is that no states prohibit cell phone usage while driving altogether (including hands free devices), although 11 states and the District of Columbia prohibit drivers from using handheld cell phones. The idea of banning even hands-free devices may seem like a radical proposal to many, particularly those who still cling to the untrue notion that using hands-free devices while driving, such as Bluetooth technology, is safe. However, extensive driver reaction time studies tell a different story.
The sad reality, whether we want to accept the truth or not, is that even talking on a hands-free cell phone reduces driver response times, and therefore simply is not safe. So, in my view, federal, state and local governments, including legislators and judges, big corporations, cell phone carriers and automobile manufacturers ALL have an unquestionable duty to do everything within their power to stop, rather than continue ignoring and/or expanding, what they unquestionably know is a widespread yet very dangerous problem.
Federal Laws Aimed At The Distracted Driving Problem
The federal government has also taken some steps toward curbing this growing problem, although, like the states, has not gone far enough. Specifically, all government employees and federal contractors may not text while driving government vehicles or using government-supplied equipment. Also, the Federal Railroad Association has banned the use of any electronic devices by railroad operating employees. Very importantly, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have banned interstate commercial motor vehicle drivers and drivers of vehicles hauling hazardous materials from using electronic devices. Unfortunately, these bans provide an exception for hands-free devices, which limits their effectiveness. Finally and tellingly, the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that all states pass laws prohibiting drivers’ use of all mobile communication devices, including both handheld and hands-free cell phones.
What Has Happened With Distracted Driving Lawsuits?
Lawsuits involving texting while driving, and even hands-free cell phone usage while driving, have led to some exceptionally high verdicts and settlements, and for good reason. After having this new technology for many years, everyone knows that these devices are dangerous. And big corporations are no different, in that their operating officers undoubtedly know these devices are dangerous. But they are very different in this critical sense: they have the unique power and responsibility to stop large numbers of people (meaning: their employees) from engaging in this dangerous behavior.
As but one of many examples, in 2010, a Coca Cola employee, who had been using a hands-free cell phone to talk on the phone, during work and following company policy, caused an accident, which caused the plaintiff to suffer a spinal cord injury requiring surgery, and she was left with a 25% permanent disability. The jury awarded the plaintiff 21 million dollars in damages (10 million of which were punitive damages, which are designed to punish defendant companies for bad policies ignoring known, serious dangers). There have been quite a few other cases with multi-million dollar verdicts or settlements premised partly on corporate liability and punitive damages, several of which involved talking rather than texting on a cell phone, including hands-free and even permanently mounted devices.
Although some companies have instituted policies against any cell phone use (handheld or hands-free) when employees are driving company cars or using company devices, not all of them have. Further, many companies are still clinging to the known-to-be-false belief that hands-free devices do not cause distracted driving accidents. Plus, even among those companies which have appropriate policies, there are still undoubtedly huge variations in associated policy distribution and training. An undistributed or untrained policy is akin to a tree falling in the forest when no one is listening.
The Only Way To Change Things: Hit Orlando At-Fault Drivers Where It Hurts
When plaintiffs attorneys can prove that companies knew of dangers associated with cell phone usage, yet those same companies either had no policy, an unclear or ineffective policy, or an insufficiently distributed or taught policy, those offending and blameworthy companies absolutely should be punished, beyond normal damages, in the form of something called punitive damages. Punitive damages are above and beyond any plaintiffs’ actual damages, are specifically designed to punish a wrongdoer, and therefore must take into account the worth of the offender. The underlying premise of punitive damages is that a low number would never punish a large corporation and therefore only a high number stands any chance of forcing wealthy or corporate defendants to embrace much needed change.
Orlando Distracted Driving Lawsuits: Potential Injury Attorney Arguments & Defendants
Among the legal issues worth pondering when handling an Orlando distracted driving claim (beyond garden variety negligence):
- negligence per se (when traffic laws are violated)
- products liability (against cell phone carriers and/or automobile manufacturers, presently a long-shot but possibly worth more bites at the apple)
- proximate cause
- vicarious and/or direct liability of employers
- potential negligence of those sending texts to those known to be driving (another longshot, and very possibly worthless without insurance coverage, but still worth at least brief consideration)
- existence and effectiveness of company policies prohibiting any cell phone usage while driving
- compliance with federal regulations regarding commercial vehicles, trains, and hazardous material drivers
- punitive damages
Orlando Distracted Driving: Modified Litigation Strategies
Since the rough estimates are that almost 20% of fatal and non-fatal accidents involve distracted driving, and many of those involve cell phone usage, all personal injury attorneys should strongly consider modifying their pre-suit and litigation strategies to include:
- modifying evidence preservation letters to include things like driving logs & cell phone records
- checking police report for driver cell phone number, then requesting cell records via subpoena
- checking for items in car or accident photographs showing potentially distracting devices including cords
- asking witnesses whether the driver might have been using a cell phone or otherwise might have been distracted
- (important) seeking the call detail record from any wireless service provider, if the wireless bill does not provide sufficient call or text information
- seek similar information from passenger records
- in commercial vehicle accident cases, notifying employer to preserve every document related to the collision, including logs, tracking information, operational documents, black box information, emails on the phones or company servers, and cell phone records
- potentially contact recipients of any calls, emails or text messages
- information from company regarding distracted driving policies, distribution, training and enforcement
- modifying written discovery & depositions to include related requests
- consulting with various experts to help prove driver distraction
My Strong Opinion About Distracted Driving
Neither federal nor state governments, nor large corporations (including especially cell phone carriers and auto manufacturers) are doing nearly enough to ensure the safety of the driving public. Therefore, as a personal injury attorney, I believe one of my public relations jobs is to spread the word that these companies need to be held accountable for their negligence. Unless and until that happens, we can and should expect the depressing numbers and horrific details to climb. I also strongly believe that everyone in the world (with their children or grandchildren) should watch this 30 minute public service video.
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