Our injury blog has never before posted a photograph of an actual crash, but this crash is different. This crash was totally avoidable and is made more poignant by the fact that the Georgia Hands Free law is awaiting Governor Deal’s signature. We think it is important for all to see the result of distracted driving. The teen who was driving the car in the photo was driving at a speed of over 100 miles per hour. She may also have been on SnapChat when her vehicle left the road, rolled over a few times and finally hit a tree. She is alleged to have caused the death of her friend who was a passenger in the vehicle. The teen driver is now charged with vehicular homicide. If she is found guilty, she may spend time in jail and she must live with the death of her friend for the rest of her life.
One of the most tragic events in and around Georgia are fatal motor vehicle crashes. Loss of life on our roads and highways is something we all would like to see diminished in numbers. Only recently, a young woman lost her life maneuvering a curve on a Georgia highway. Lowering the number of fatal crashes in our state is something we can all support. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) is dedicated to lowering the number of fatal crashes and has established an important goal: lower the number of annual fatal crashes across America by 1000.
Georgia’s Department of Transportation (GDOT) has set a goal in our state to reduce this number by 41 or more. Current statistics on fatal crashes in Georgia is not moving in the right direction. During 2017, there were 1550 who lost their lives on our roads. This is an increase of 33 percent and up from lower numbers in prior years such as 2014. In an effort to reduce loss of life in Georgia due to motor vehicle crashes, the Georgia Department of Transportation is continuing its major effort known as “Drive Alert Arrive Alive.” The increase in road and highway fatal crashes amounts to four lives lost on a daily basis and is above the national average. That is truly a sobering statistic. One of the culprits in this rise is distracted driving. Teen distracted driving is a particular concern.
These statistics are likely a major factor in the recent passage of a statewide hands free driving law in the Georgia Legislature which is on the Governor’s desk for signing. Local legislative efforts, which will be preempted by the statewide law on the Governor’s signage, were supported by families impacted by loss of life on Georgia roads, including the parents of one of the nursing students who was fatally injured in 2015.
Distracted Driving Is Our Biggest Fear
Have you ever noticed another driver looking at their cell phone while you are driving in the next lane? Do you ever wonder if that person can actually safely drive and read a text or worse, send one? Most people will answer yes to that question. Just in time for April, which is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the AAA Foundation has released a new survey that reveals what American drivers are saying about this issue. Every year, the AAA surveys a large group of drivers over a one month period to find out what they are experiencing out on the road. It turns out that the most feared behavior on the road these days is distracted driving. About 88 percent of those surveyed say that this is their biggest worry, more than drunk or drugged driving and more than aggressive driving.
We all know that distracted driving is a major safety issue and causes serious and fatal car accidents. But do you know that it has now become the most feared behavior on the road? Despite the fact that one in three people have a family member who has been seriously injured or fatally harmed in a motor vehicle accident with varying causes and one in five have experienced an accident themselves, distracted driving still tempts them.
Over the years, we have shared posts about a wide variety of accidents with our readers. We do this because we want to help our readers understand why accidents happen and how to avoid them, if at all possible. Earlier this week, a truly horrific crash occurred in Texas. You may have heard about the crash involving a pick up truck and a church van. Thirteen people lost their lives in this crash. One survivor remains in the hospital. The crash turns out to have been completely avoidable. Thirteen people could still be with their families today, but for a 20-year old driver who was texting while driving on a two-lane road. He crossed over the line and struck the church van.
A driver behind the pick up truck noticed the driver traveling erratically and crossing the line. He contacted two different sheriff’s offices informing them that the truck was driving dangerously. But the crash happened before that was possible. And tragedy struck. After the crash the witness was there to listen to the young driver’s guilt … apologizing over and over again for having texted while he was driving. Although authorities have yet to confirm this was the cause of the crash, the witness indicated that the driver admitted this to him on the scene. This will be part of the investigation.
The church members were elderly and were wearing lap seat belts at the time of the crash. Experts reveal that in a crash like this one, a lap belt doesn’t protect passengers as well as a three-point shoulder belt. This is because passengers are more likely to sustain head injuries.
A lawsuit filed in California has put another twist on the national discussion on distracted driving. The question is, in part, is Apple responsible for death or injury to motorists because they offer technologies such as FaceTime that allow users to have face to face conversations on their phones? More specifically, should Apple be held responsible when they have the technology that would shut down this application when used by a driver, but failed to install it in their iPhone 6?
In the California lawsuit, a family claims that Apple’s FaceTime app caused their child’s death. The tragic loss of their child occurred in Texas, but Apple is headquartered in Santa Clara County, California where the suit was filed. In the crash, the family’s vehicle was stopped and was rear-ended by a distracted driver. The distracted driver was using the FaceTime app at the time of the collision. The vehicle was struck so intensely that the children in the back of the vehicle were severely injured. Their daughter lost her life from the injuries she sustained.
As we begin the new year, Georgians are looking towards a vibrant 2016. We have wound up the 2015 holiday season with friends and family. But looking back at the last year, we have some sobering news. Fatal traffic accidents in Georgia rose in 2015 for the first time since 2006. The Department of Transportation’s website calls the increase “startling” and has partnered with the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and the Department of Public Safety to launch a campaign called DriveAlert ArriveAlive (DAAA) to focus on the issue. The hope is that educating the public and bringing attention to safety measures we all can take, will reverse this unfortunate trend. The reports indicate that, until this year, Georgia enjoyed a stabilization of the fatal accident rate in prior years.
The most likely culprit for the rise in Georgia’s fatal accidents, might well be something we have posted about in the past — single-vehicle crashes. The increase in these tragic Georgia vehicle crashes includes road departures of various kinds. Drivers involved in these crashes are often not wearing a seatbelt, are fatigued, are driving distracted or are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The DriveAlertArriveAlive program is directed at these very important causes, as well as other concerns about safe driving.
Law enforcement has a tough job these days. We value the protection they provide to us and are grateful for their service. But it is rare when we can say that we also admire their creativity. Marietta police have gone rogue and creative in catching distracted drivers as they carried on with their texts, tweets and emails. Perhaps some readers actually saw this activity recently as Marietta police stood on the streets looking like they were part of a construction crew, when in fact they were observing distracted drivers and catching them on the spot. As drivers drove through the “construction site” officers were observing first hand the illegal activity of the drivers, essentially catching them while they texted or otherwise read or wrote on their devices. They then would radio ahead to waiting police cars that pulled them over.
The challenge in general for law enforcement is that it is difficult for them to determine what people are doing on their devices and see inside their vehicles. The only thing that is permitted while driving is looking at a map or checking an address. This distinction is difficult, if not impossible, for police to know which is an added challenge. Many drivers were cited or pulled over and seemed surprised by the parameters of the law — when you are on the road and use your device it doesn’t matter that you are stopped at a light. When you are on a roadway and you are looking at your phone, this is not only dangerous, it is illegal. And while your vehicle is running and you are on the road, reading or writing on your device is not permitted under Georgia law.
The recent publication of a major review of dash cam videos of teens driving distracted and crashing their vehicles, compiled by the American Automobile Association (AAA) is something every teen and every parent should watch. To begin with, the statistics on teen distracted driving are stunning — nearly 60 percent of motor vehicle accidents involving teens are caused by some sort of distraction. The distraction can be a cell phone or other teens in the vehicle. It can be texting or it can be simply the teen driver pointing out something on the road to a passenger.
The most recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety effort which compiles teen distracted driving video footage, is a bit difficult to watch. The videos which were studied in collaboration with the University of Iowa, focus on the very crucial 6 seconds before a crash event. Although in some teen car crashes the teen is alone, often there are other passengers that cause distraction. Many experts believe that the issue is driver experience, but perhaps it is most likely to be that and other factors. Teens are statistically more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors and perhaps do not believe that anything terrible can happen to them, that they can text and drive because they are more careful than their peers. But this reasoning is not supported by the facts. Which is why watching videos of what has happened to thousands of teens, is perhaps a real wake up call for those teens and adults who think they are immune from the dangers of distracted driving.
Around this time last year, we noted to our readers that Gwinnett County planned to put a full court press on texting while driving. One officer has made it his mission to accomplish this important effort. Although many of us know that texting and driving are just as dangerous as drinking and driving, and sometimes we might want to see who just texted or emailed us while we are operating a motor vehicle, it isn’t a good strategy. As a Gwinnett County distracted driver injury lawyer, I have represented those who have been hit or injured by a distracted driver, even while simply sitting at a stop light.
Most people do not realize that being rear-ended by a distracted driver, let alone other circumstances on our roads and highways, can cause serious injury or even death. If you have been involved in an accident involving a distracted driver, you know that feeling of frustration. Why couldn’t that driver have simply waited to send that text or email? That is why the effort to stop this practice is such a high priority for some law enforcement.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that one dedicated Gwinnett County police officer has issued 800 tickets for this illegal practice and intends to reach 1,000 by the end of the year. Judging from the video of this committed officer on the AJC site, he is going to accomplish this and is very very serious about doing so. Inspired by the over 3,400 cases in the United States last year in which someone was killed due to this practice, ten deaths per day, this officer has set out to stop “good people” from becoming bad people by engaging in this practice.
As Officer Myers explains, Georgia law (The Official Code of Georgia Annotated section 40-6-241) prohibits the use of any web-based functions and text-based functions while driving. He explains that essentially all applications including navigation applications (such as Google maps) are not permitted because they are web-based functions. The only permissible GPS is a non-web-based device, such as a Garmin or a TomTom. You are not permitted to use a map function on your phone, or do anything that involves typing while driving, such as checking Facebook or texting.
What this means is that under Georgia law if you are behind the wheel and on a roadway, the only thing you are permitted to do on the phone is dial a number and have a live conversation. Sadly, Officer Myers points out, that is becoming more and more rare.
How does Officer Myers accomplish this effort? He says that if he is at a red light and cannot see the screen of a driver’s phone he can tell when they have typed more than ten letters or numbers. That means they are not making a phone call. When pulled over, most drivers “argue” with him. But luckily for Officer Myers, whatever the driver was last doing on their phone is retained and if he has any doubt, he will ask the driver to unlock their phone and whatever that driver was doing last on his or her phone will be retained. He says he has “seen everything.” Most drivers comply with his request that they show him their telephone after being pulled over.
Although some might claim that having their phone checked by law enforcement might violate privacy rights, legal experts note that it is doubtful the right to privacy would be tolerated in a situation in which a person is texting while driving which could injure or kill. Most states prohibit this activity now and it is not declining, so look for the laws in this area to be strengthened, not lessened.
Texting 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.