Articles Posted in Distracted Driving

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for distracted driver.jpgTexting a driver could mean you too are in legal trouble. A New Jersey state appeals court has added a new twist on this admonition: Do not knowingly text a driver — or you could be held liable if he or she causes a crash.

We know that texting and driving is particularly dangerous for teens … and the New Jersey case involved two young teens. Georgia law prohibits drivers from texting while driving in Official Code of Georgia Annotated section 40-6-241.2. In my law practice as an Atlanta distracted driving accident lawyer, I know that texting and driving is dangerous for all drivers and especially for teen drivers.

In the case before the New Jersey court, an 18 year old driver was driving his pickup truck along a rural highway when his girlfriend texted him. Court records revealed that the two texted one another over 60 times a day. A couple was traveling in the opposite lane of traffic on a motorcycle, when the young teen crossed into their lane of traffic and hit them head on after receiving a text from his girlfriend. The evidence in the case indicated that just before impact, the two teens were sending messages to one another back and forth.

The couple on the bike were badly injured and both had severe injuries, both lost their legs after this horrific crash. The teen that received the text from his girlfriend contacted 911 immediately after the crash. The couple sued him, but in a novel move, the lawsuit also named his girlfriend as a defendant in the case. The driver and the injured couple settled the case, but the issue of liability for the girlfriend remained a legal issue.

We know of no other case involving the issue in this case: can a sending texter be held liable for injuries to third parties in the event the recipient of those texts is driving. If the sending texter is in a different location, but knows that the recipient is driving, there might be a duty not to engage in texting under these circumstances.

The New Jersey court opinion noted that when texts are sent to someone who is driving, and the sender is aware of this fact, it could be a problem for the sender if he or she also knows the likelihood that the driver will check the text while driving. The court noting that the plaintiffs in this case did not present sufficient evidence to prove that the teen sending the text had this level of knowledge. The evidence did not show that the driver’s girlfriend had in any way encouraged her boyfriend to text her while he was behind the wheel and she did not control his actions.

The court’s ruling should be sobering to anyone thinking texting while driving is a good idea or that they will not be the ones to cause a tragedy such as this one. The court’s holding is clearly a look into the future of liability for this activity. They held that a person who sends a text, could actually be held responsible for a crash that occurs because the driver is distracted by the text, but it limited this to very particular criteria — when the sender has some particular knowledge that the texts will be read by the driver.

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for distracted driver.jpgIt’s not legal to text and drive in Georgia. The Official Code of Georgia Annotated section 40-6-241 prohibits this activity. But recently, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the enforcement of the ban is plain and simply lacking. Since the law became effective (July 1, 2010) there are less than 50 convictions per month for texting while driving. So, despite the fact that distracted driving is known to be extremely dangerous, some Georgia drivers are plain and simply — getting away with it. But as an Atlanta distracted driver injury lawyer, I know that injuries might well result from combining driving and texting and those injured by a distracted driver can get help for their distracted driver accident.

In a recent tally, the total numbers of those convicted of driving distracted is less than 2000, while during the same time frame, there were over 22,000 drivers who were convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These statistics are maintained by Georgia’s Department of Driver Services (DDS). In 2011, nearly 4,000 crashes in Georgia were due to the use of cell phones and distracted driving. Of these, nearly 1,000 resulted in serious injury and nine resulted in deaths.

Across the country, many states have banned texting while driving as it is known to be a serious hazard pulling attention off the road and onto a phone or other PDA. The difficulty in citing drivers has to do with the difficulty in proving that someone was actually texting — as most drivers put their phones away when they are pulled over by law enforcement. And, proof is difficult in these situations because prosecution has to show that the driver was actually texting while driving, not dialing or talking on the phone which is still legal in Georgia.

But other states ban holding the phone while driving and require essentially that calls be put on a speaker or that drivers use Bluetooth technology so they can be fully hands free. Unless and until Georgia steps up its laws to prohibit holding the phone while driving, this will continue to be an issue for law enforcement. It is easier to cite and convict drivers when all they have to be doing is holding a phone up to their ear, as is the case in California and New Jersey, for example.

The other issue pointed out in the report is that the penalty is low enough that drivers are not taking it seriously enough. The monetary amount for a violation is a $150 fine and results in only one point on a driving record.

In Gwinnett County drivers are getting the message so to speak, because the county leads in convictions and in fact has more than every other Georgia combined. For example, Gwinnett County had over 600 convictions in the same period in which Cobb County had convicted 64, Fulton convicted 43, Clayton County convicted 20 and DeKalb County convicted 16. Gwinnett County officers are said to “diligently watch for distracted drivers during routine traffic patrols, but the department has not emphasized enforcing the texting while driving law.” Great statistics when the officers are keeping this activity top of mind.

The latest studies are sobering indeed. Texting while driving raises the likelihood of accident over 20 times since the driver takes his or her eyes are off the road for close to 5 seconds when sending or receiving a text.

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for distracted driver.jpgDistracted driving has quickly become a national hazard. All over the country, and right here in Georgia, we are seeing more and more dangerous driving that leads to motor vehicle injuries and death. In my work as an Atlanta car accident lawyer, I have followed the legal developments in distracted driving.

The courts are working through the many issues that have arisen in the use of cell phones and other devices while driving. One area in which the law is developing relates to the employer’s liability for their employee’s texting while driving which results in injury or death. Often the companies that employ the drivers involved in these accidents are sued along with the driver.

According to a recent report in The Washington Post, the jury awards against these companies can be in the millions. For example, in Alabama a trucking company was ordered to pay $18 million when a driver reached for a cell phone and caused a serious accident. Another company paid more than $16 million. Some of these cases are settling out of court so that the company does not have to face a jury trial with their employee as the defendant driver.

Accident reconstruction experts now have tools available to them to use in determining the driver’s texting or cell phone activity at the time of the accident. The detection technologies are becoming more and more precise. It is possible to look at the data and determine the precise moment of impact as it relates to an active phone call or text that could have distracted the driver and possibly have avoided the accident altogether.

Some courts are looking at how far the liability goes in a distracted driver case. A recent New Jersey case illustrates the point. In that case, motorcyclists suffered severe injuries when a texting driver hit them. The person who had sent the text was found not to have aided and abetted the driver who was directly liable for the injuries. In that case, the judge did not see the imposition of liability on the sender as reasonable.

A recent decision by a Florida judge expanded liability caused by texting while driving in that he granted the plaintiff’s motion to allow punitive damages in a civil negligence suit. This is likely in part because eye witnesses contradicted the driver’s account of the accident and when she says she stopped texting while driving. The witnesses’ car was almost hit before the accident occurred.

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Thumbnail image for distracted driver.jpgWe have posted in the past on the dangers of distracted driving in all vehicles and with all drivers — from negligent truck drivers to teens to the elderly. Incidents of distracted driving have come to the attention of Georgians in the past few years and our legislature has banned texting while driving. I have learned a great deal about this problem in my Atlanta accident and injury law practice, as clients contact me after having been in an accident, some involving distracted driving.

Before going into what the feds are proposing, a reminder to all that Georgia bans texting while driving, but allows the use of cell phones whether hand-held or not. The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) § 40-6-241.2 prohibits drivers from operating a motor vehicle on any public road or highway “while using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, or read any text based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, e-mail, or Internet data.”

Recently, the U.S. Transportation Secretary announced something very unusual. The “first-ever federally proposed guidelines to encourage automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk for in-vehicle electronic devices.” The idea is to ask vehicle manufacturers to pay attention to the devices they are installing in cars that might distract drivers.

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distracted driver.jpgEarlier this month, the National Transportation Safety Board announced that it would like to see states ban calling and texting while driving. They extended this recommendation even to hand-free devices which apparently do not completely eliminate distracted driving risks. Here in Georgia, I serve as an Atlanta area accident lawyer and represent drivers harmed in serious motor vehicle crashes. Safe driving can certainly help avoid tragedy, but how far should lawmakers go in managing these risks?

Many states differ in this regard, some have complete bans on the use of cell phones unless it is hands free like California and New York. Georgia bans texting while driving, but allows the use of cell phones whether hand-held or not. Specifically, the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) § 40-6-241.2 prohibits drivers from operating a motor vehicle on any public road or highway “while using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, or read any text based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, e-mail, or Internet data.” It is worth noting that even reading a text is prohibited, which could be viewed as similar to picking up the phone to make a call.

It is also worth a few minutes of your time to go to the NTSB site linked above, to find out why the NTSB asks rhetorically, so “what’s the big deal” and to review the statistics. We know that 3.092 people lost their lives last year because a driver was distracted while behind the wheel. If we were able to talk with those people now, what do you think they would say about driving distracted?

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The Atlanta Injury Attorneys Blog has recently posted on an Atlanta area MARTA bus accident in which a car played a major factor in the crash. We have also posted on the push to implement federal bus safety standards that have been in place for a decade, but are not yet fully implemented.

Last week, a Harmon Brothers Tour bus chartered to carry 52 passengers from the Mill Creek High School in Buford, was traveling on 1-75 in a construction zone when it had to swerve off the highway to avoid a car stopped in its lane. The bus traveled up an embankment and struck an overpass, all to avoid the car.

The car was in the lane in which the bus had been traveling due to a rear-end collision that occurred before the bus came along. The car had been pushed into the lane in which the bus was traveling, after it had been involved in the rear-end collision.

There were 47 Gwinnett County high school students on board the chartered bus when the accident occurred. One bus passenger was airlifted to a hospital in Macon and 19 others were taken to nearby hospitals. The airlifted passenger was said to be in stable condition. The other passengers were taken to the local hospital as a precaution and were not expected to have any serious injuries.

As with so many Atlanta area highway accidents, this colliison occurred in a construction zone at a merge point where three lanes merged into two. Accident and injury can be avoided if drivers slow down in construction areas and allow the merge to occur without trying to rush through the situation.
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Last month, the Georgia Department of Transportation took a big turn on roadside memorials. These are the memorials we have all seen along highways and roads that are constructed by family members and friends after a loved one has died in a fatal motor vehicle accident.

Now the Georgia DOT says these memorials along state and federal highways pose a road hazard for drivers who move their eyes away from the road to take a look at the memorial and become distracted. They say they intend to remove them over time as the roadsides are maintained. This does not apply to city and county roads.

We know from the use of technology within a vehicle such as texting while driving, that when drivers move their eyes away from the road it can be deadly. Presumably, it is a similar safety concern for drivers whose attention is drawn to the make shift memorials that often include messages, flowers and religious symbols, such as a cross.

The families of loved ones who have tragically died in a fatal accident on Georgia’s roads have been given an alternative by the DOT. The state is offering a more “uniform” solution to the public memorial. They will issue a sign at the cost of $100 that will include the deceased person’s name and the notation “Drive Safely, In Memory” and will give the sign to the person who paid for it, after it has stood for one year. No other memorials will be permitted on Georgia’s roads. The application for this sign can be viewed here.

According to a recent account in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, some family members are taking the news of this development very hard. Many bereaved families use the memorials they have created as part of their grieving process and for them it might not be the same creating an individualized memorial for their loved one.

In its Highway Safety Memorial Markers policy statement, the DOT states: “The policy is to provide guidance for the application process and uniform design and placement of memorial markers within the State Highway rights of way.”

Although the agency appears to understand that this change is not going to be easy for some families to accept, the DOT’s policy on this issue stems from the fact that nearly 1500 people die on Georgia’s roads annually.

A big factor in the dangers of the memorials constructed by families and friends is the proximity to the edge of the road. When people gather around these memorials they can be at risk of being hit or killed themselves by oncoming traffic.
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The Atlanta, Georgia region has many intersections with red light cameras that monitor potential offenders who might otherwise go undetected. The big news this week is that red light cameras are saving lives by lowering the number of motor vehicle crashes at intersections using these cameras.

The Study
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has issued a study report that included 14 major cities with red light cameras and compared statistics of fatal crashes in cities that do not have these cameras. The study included a broad look at 99 cities with populations over 200,000 and then compared fatal crashes between 2004-2008 and 1992-1996, the latter period being prior to the use of red light camera programs.

The study’s objective was to: “estimate the effects of red light camera enforcement on per capita fatal crash rates at intersections with signal lights.” The result is that the red light cameras have reduced fatal accidents by 24 percent. And in cities using these cameras, fatal intersection crashes that did not include running red lights were reduced as well.

According to the study, 159 lives were saved with the use of cameras and concludes that over the same period, 815 lives could have been saved if more major cities used this tool. It is thought that drivers pay more attention at intersections they know have cameras and slow down to avoid running a red light.

Some Concerns About Red Light Cameras
The AAA has voiced concerns that these systems can be abused as “revenue generators” rather than lifesavers. Others argue that in fact rear-end crashes have increased due to these cameras and still others voice concern that automating law enforcement removes the human element that enables drivers with special circumstances to explain their situation to an officer.

Study Conclusion: Red Light Cameras Reduce Fatal Crashes
The study’s final conclusion states a good case for the use of these computerized systems: “Red light camera enforcement programs reduce the citywide rate of fatal red light running crashes and, to a lesser but still significant extent, the rate of all fatal crashes at signalized intersections. Cities wishing to reduce fatal crashes at signalized intersections should consider red light camera enforcement.”
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Truck9.jpgLast month, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a proposal to revise the federal hours-of-service (HOS) regulation for commercial truck drivers. This proposal is timely, since a court settlement agreement requires FMCSA to publish a new, final HOS rule by July 26 of this year.

The HOS regulations would retain their “34-hour restart” provision, which lets drivers restart the clock on their weekly 60 or 70 hours after taking 34 consecutive hours off-duty, under this proposal. The difference with this new proposal is the restart period would have to include two consecutive off-duty periods from midnight to 6:00 a.m., and drivers would be allowed to use this restart only once during a seven-day period.

The HOS proposal also mandates that commercial truckers complete all driving within a 14-hour workday, and that they complete all on-duty work-related activities within 13 hours to allow at least an hour break during their workday. What hasn’t been decided yet is whether drivers should be limited to 10 or 11 hours of daily driving time. FMCSA currently favors a 10-hour limit, and so do I.

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Texting While Driving Deemed Not “Reckless” by Gwinnett County District Attorney

On Tuesday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that vehicular homicide charges against Lori Reineke, a Gwinnett County woman who hit and killed a pedestrian last October, had been reduced from a first-degree felony to a second-degree misdemeanor.

Police had originally charged Reineke with first-degree vehicular homicide due to reckless driving because she had been texting behind the wheel when she struck and killed James Eaton III.