In 2018 alone, more than 2,800 people in the United States died and 276,000 were injured in car accidents caused by distracted driving. These sobering numbers come from the National Safety Council’s (NSC) analysis of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Many people sustain personal injury or are killed throughout New Jersey and nationwide from distracted driving every single day. Anyone who is injured or whose loved one has died in an accident involving a distracted driver should contact a seasoned car accident lawyer for a consultation on the next steps.
What are the Types of Distracted Driving?
Anything that takes a driver’s focus off the road is considered distracted driving. Generally, distracted driving takes three forms:
- Visual: Eyes are off the road.
- Manual: Hands are off the steering wheel; body is not in a driving position.
- Cognitive: The mind is not focused on driving; mind is fatigued.
Visual and manual distractions are obvious to the driver, who, it is hoped, will stop the behaviors quickly. Cognitive distractions are less noticeable. Often a driver will get lost in thought or distracted while talking with a passenger. Sometimes a driver is fatigued or drowsy from any number of causes. Cognitive distractions are particularly worrisome, and drivers need to be aware of taking their minds off the road as well as their hands and eyes.
What are Common Causes of Distracted Driving?
There are many causes of distracted driving, particularly with the rise of electronic devices and cell phones. It is impossible to perform any task inside the vehicle while maintaining full focus on driving. The most common causes of distracted driving are the following:
- Cell phones: The NSC estimates that more than 25 percent of all traffic accidents involve cell phones. The driver may answer the cell phone, dial a number, read a text message, send a text message, or use a driving direction app on the phone. When any of these occur while driving, there is a good chance that the driver is distracted enough to cause a serious accident.
- Navigation systems: Although GPS and similar devices are convenient for motorists, they can cause distraction. Looking down at the GPS frequently or, worse, programming it while driving is a leading cause of accidents.
- Infotainment systems: Most cars today have interactive screens for both vehicle information and entertainment, including radio, video, and other information. Although these systems are popular, they can cause distraction when a driver interacts with or fiddles with them while driving.
- Temperature and other controls: Every driver needs to use heat, A/C, lights, defrost, and other controls at times, but adjusting them while driving can lead to distraction and an accident.
- Loud passengers: Children, teens, and even adults can be overly noisy as passengers in a vehicle. Noise can distract the driver from focusing on the road.
- Loud radio or video: When the music or a video is too loud, it is easy for a driver to lose focus on driving. Also, sirens on emergency vehicles are difficult to hear when it is too loud inside the car.
- Reaching for items: Perhaps an item dropped to the car’s floor, or the driver needs something from the back seat. Anything that takes eyes and hands off the road is risky and should not be done until safely pulled over.
- Eating and drinking: Although many people eat and drink on the road, it is better to pull over to do so. Unwrapping food, reaching for drinks, and even spills can cause unsafe driving.
- Getting lost in thought: Most drivers have daydreamed or otherwise gotten lost in thought while driving. It happens easily, especially on long stretches of road or highway. Sometimes a driver knows a particular route so well that they operate on autopilot. Drivers need to be aware of being unaware.
- Getting into a deep conversation: Sometimes, engaging with a passenger in the car causes drivers to take their minds off driving. While talking in the car is not usually a problem, drivers need to put the focus on the road first, conversation second.
- Personal hygiene: Distracted driving and accidents have occurred because of drivers applying makeup, brushing or styling hair, even shaving while driving.
- Reading: Drivers have been caught reading novels and causing accidents, but more often, reading driving directions or other items related to travel cause distraction.
- Pets: As fun as it is to take a furry friend for a ride, it can also be dangerous, for the pet and the driver. Drivers can get distracted when the pet runs around the car or gets caught in the driver’s feet or lap. Pets who are loose in the vehicle can get injured in an accident or even by a quick stop. Pets need to be kept secured.
- Roadside attractions: Interesting signs, buildings, and even accidents or emergency vehicles on the side of the road can cause a driver to lose focus on the roadway in front of them.
- Fatigue: Although fatigued driving is in its own category of accident causes, it is still a distraction. When a driver is fighting to keep their eyes open or their heads from nodding, the distraction becomes an obvious danger.
An experienced car accident lawyer has seen every version of distracted driving. It is worth contacting a lawyer to see if there is available compensation for injuries sustained in an accident caused by a distracted driver.
What Laws Apply to Distracted Driving?
Nearly every state has laws that cover distracted driving. Some states use general terms to describe illegal distracted driving behavior. In contrast, other states will specifically name the unlawful conduct, such as texting while driving.
In New Jersey, distracted driving laws are relatively uncomplicated:
- It is generally illegal for drivers to talk or text on a cell phone while driving unless the device is in hands-free mode.
The only exceptions to this law are when the driver:
- Fears for their life or safety or believes that a crime may be committed against a person
- Makes a call to report an emergency, such as an unsafe or intoxicated driver
The fines for distracted driving violations in New Jersey are as follows:
- $200 to $400 for a first offense.
- $400 to $600 for a second offense.
- $600 to $800 for a third or subsequent violation. For a third or subsequent violation, the driver will get three points on their driving record, and a judge can suspend their license for up to 90 days.
Note that public transportation drivers, such as bus drivers, are also prohibited from talking and texting while driving, whether on a handheld or hands-free device. Exceptions include emergency calls, when radio communications fail, and when a paratransit driver uses a hands-free device when radio service is not available.
In New Jersey, a texting or cellphone violation could lead to a reckless driving conviction. A motorist can be convicted of reckless driving for operating a vehicle heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property.
A reckless driving conviction can result in jail and fines along with five points on a driver’s license.
A New Jersey driver can also be cited for careless driving, a lesser offense than reckless driving but still punishable by jail, fines, and points.
Assault by Auto/Vehicular Homicide
Reckless drivers in New Jersey can be convicted of what is known as assault by auto. This would be a disorderly persons offense if the resulting injuries were minor. If a person was seriously injured, assault by auto becomes a crime in the fourth degree.
Finally, if a reckless driver causes a death, the driver may be charged with vehicular homicide, leading to substantial jail time and fines.
Monmouth County Car Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Fight for Victims of Accidents Caused by a Distracted Driver
Distracted driving is illegal in New Jersey. The Monmouth County car accident lawyers at Ellis Law have helped hundreds of people collect compensation for medical bills, loss of income, and other damages when a distracted driver causes injuries or a loved one’s death. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.