What Happens If I Am in An Accident with a Distracted Driver?

Someone driving with a phone behind a cell phone in their hand Distracted driving has quickly become a serious nationwide problem, with a significant number of auto accidents directly attributed to driver distraction. According to a 2015 NHTSA vehicle crash overview, distracted driving fatalities rose at a greater percentage during 2015 than those for impaired driving, drowsy driving, exceeding the speed limit and failure to wear a seat belt. Although it is difficult to get absolute numbers regarding distracted driving (it is hard to prove, and few drivers will admit their distraction), NHTSA numbers indicate 3,477 people killed and 391,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015 alone. Drivers between the ages of 15 and 19 have the highest risk of having a distraction-related auto accident, although no age group is exempt from driving distractions. Research done by State Farm Insurance indicates that while 82 percent of drivers agree that using a cell phone while driving is very risky, 50 percent do it anyway. A full 95 percent of drivers agree that sending or reading a text while driving is extremely dangerous—yet 35 percent say they still send and read texts while driving. Other forms of distracted driving include interactions with children in the back seat, talking to passengers, interactions with unsecured pets, eating and drinking, attempting to set or read a GPS device and changing auto controls for radio, heater, A/C, etc.

What are the Signs of a Distracted Driver?

So, how do you know if the driver who hit you was distracted at the time? This can be a difficult question to answer, because it may not always be obvious that a driver was distracted in some way, and few drivers will admit to a distraction following an accident. Of course, if you actually see a driver with a cell phone in his or her hand or see a driver who appears to be looking at his or her lap, that is definitely a warning sign. If you are driving at night, you may see the light coming from the driver’s phone, illuminating his or her face. If you see someone who is obviously texting, drop back or move away. If you see a driver with an obviously angry expression, or a driver making angry gestures, he or she could be having an argument over the phone or having an argument with a passenger. Either way, this is a distraction which could lead to an accident. Seeing a driver with a burger or a taco in their hand is also a sign you should stay as far away as possible from that vehicle. Drivers may drop or spill food or drink in their lap, then attempt to clean it off while driving—definitely risky behaviors. In general, if you see another driver who does not have both hands on the wheel and seems to be paying attention to anything other than the road and other drivers, avoid that driver to the extent possible.

If I See Signs of a Distracted Driver What Should I Do?

Anytime you notice an obviously distracted driver, you need to get as far away from that driver as humanly possible. If you are on a freeway and are not about to exit, drop back and move over as far as you can. If you are on a two-lane road and you see that the driver in front of you is obviously distracted, pull over as soon as you safely can do so, allowing the driver some time to get ahead of you. While it may be an annoyance to take the time to avoid an obviously distracted driver, you could actually be avoiding a collision—and potentially even saving your own life and the lives of your passengers.

If I’m Hit by a Distracted Driver What Steps Should I Take?

If you are hit by a distracted driver, the basic steps you will take following the accident are the same, although there may be a few additional steps you need to take. Make sure you do the following after any auto accident:
  • Call the police. This is essential, even if your accident seems relatively minor. Often, the other party may ask you to just exchange information and forego calling the police. They may be in a hurry, you may be in a hurry, and it can seem like a reasonable request. Be aware that this is virtually never a good idea. The other driver could give you information which is not accurate or could tell you he or she has insurance when, in fact there is no insurance. Further, without a police report, the other driver could change his or her story after the fact. A police report provides an unbiased account of the collision details and can be invaluable in proving the other driver was at fault.
  • Obtain all the information you can from the other driver regarding contact information, insurance policy number and make, model and license plate number of the other driver’s vehicle. If you are not hurt too badly, take photos of the scene of the accident, the damage to the vehicles, the other car’s license plate, and other photos which show the surrounding area.
  • Obtain witness statements. This can be especially important if you believe the other driver was distracted. Perhaps a witness saw the driver using a cell phone or engaging in some other type of distraction before the accident occurred. If there were witnesses, make sure you obtain contact information from each person.
  • Seek medical attention. All too often, those involved in an auto accident refuse medical attention because they do not think they are hurt seriously injured. Then, when the adrenaline wears off, they realize their injuries are much more serious than they originally thought. Unfortunately, it can be exponentially more difficult to obtain compensation for your injuries if you do not seek treatment immediately following your accident.
  • Keep careful records. As soon as you can, write down every single detail related to the accident that you can remember. No detail is too small, or too insignificant, and a detail you thought was unimportant may prove to be extremely valuable in proving your auto accident claim. Keep a file with every medical expense related to your injuries from the auto accident. It will be much easier for your Virginia car accident attorney to prove your case when he or she has the necessary evidence to do so.
  • Contact a Virginia car accident attorney immediately. The sooner you contact an experienced Virginia car accident attorney, the better your outcome is likely to be. Your attorney can explain the entire process to you, then will work hard on your behalf to obtain a favorable settlement following your car accident with a distracted driver.
In addition to eyewitness accounts, you may be able to prove the other driver was distracted by using cell phone and social media evidence. Text messages, phone calls or social media posts made during the time in question may help you prove the other driver was distracted at the time of the accident. Physical evidence found inside the vehicle such as an open book or food could also help prove distraction. Being a defensive driver—watching not only the road, but other drivers as well—can help you avoid a serious auto accident with a distracted driver.

How Distracted Driving Causes Car Accidents

Distracted driving poses serious risks to drivers, passengers, and pedestrians, contributing to car accidents in various ways:
  • Visual Distraction: Taking eyes off the road diverts attention from potential hazards.
  • Manual Distraction: Tasks like texting require taking hands off the wheel, reducing control.
  • Cognitive Distraction: Focusing on activities other than driving impairs concentration.
  • Texting and Phone Use: Combines visual, manual, and cognitive distraction, increasing accident risks.
  • Unintentional Blindness: Causes drivers to miss important cues, leading to collisions.
  • Decreased Reaction Time: Slower reactions to sudden changes increase accident likelihood.
  • Loss of Control: Distractions can result in lane drifting, collisions, or steering issues.
Overall, distracted driving significantly impairs a driver's ability to operate a vehicle safely, leading to avoidable accidents and injuries. To prevent collisions, drivers must prioritize attention on the road and eliminate distractions.

Legal Consequences of Distracted Driving

In Virginia, distracted driving is taken very seriously, with specific laws targeting various forms of driver inattention. Texting while driving is explicitly prohibited, classified as a primary offense. This means that a law enforcement officer can stop and cite a driver solely for texting. The fines for texting while driving in Virginia can range from $125 for a first offense to $250 for subsequent offenses. Additionally, there are more stringent penalties in work zones, where fines are doubled. Beyond texting, any form of distracted driving that results in reckless driving or causes an accident can lead to more severe charges, including reckless driving citations which carry higher fines, points on the driver’s license, and even potential jail time.

The Role of Insurance in Distracted Driving Accidents

Being involved in a distracted driving accident can significantly impact your insurance. Premiums often increase by 20-30% as insurers view distracted drivers as high-risk. Additionally, insurance claims may be denied if the driver was found distracted during the accident, making them financially responsible for damages. This highlights the importance of having adequate uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage. UM/UIM coverage protects you if you are hit by an uninsured or underinsured driver, covering medical bills, lost wages, and other costs, providing a crucial safety net given the prevalence of distracted driving.

How Can Tronfeld West & Durrett Help After My Accident with a Distracted Driver?

If you have been injured in an auto accident with a distracted driver you need solid, experienced legal representation. The Tronfeld West & Durrett attorneys can give you the type of knowledgeable legal help you need during this difficult time in your life. We have helped many clients who found themselves in a similar situation. We will sit down with you and discuss the specifics of your accident, then determine the best way to proceed. Contact Tronfeld West & Durrett today.