Articles Posted in Distracted Driving

The pandemic decreased holiday travel the past few years; however, this year marks a return to some semblance of normalcy. Maryland drivers will likely experience more air, auto, and public transportation traffic during the holiday season. Maryland roads become busier starting around Halloween and through New Year, which results in additional road hazards.

This increase in travel combined with winter weather may increase the likelihood of an accident. While the number of crashes decreased on the actual holiday, the rate of accidents increased in the days surrounding the holiday. As such, motorists and passengers should take steps to avoid dangerous driving and protect themselves and others during this season.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that while many behaviors may lead to accidents, the holidays bring about additional driving hazards. The four most dangerous holiday driving behaviors include:

Impaired Drivers

Impaired driving is the cause of more than half of all car accidents. This type of driving refers to operating a vehicle while being affected by alcohol, prescription or illicit drugs, sleepiness, distractions, or a medical condition. Although many people assume that December 31st is the most alcohol-related accident, Halloween has three times more fatal accidents than New Year’s Eve.

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As technology advances, so too does the number of safety features available on cars. Maryland drivers can now purchase cars with features such as blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, surround-view camera systems, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control, to name a few. Famously, Tesla is actually producing automobiles with an autopilot mode, which uses radar and cameras to drive the car without the assistance of the driver. Autopilot mode, and other safety features, should reduce the number of Maryland car accidents that occur each year when they work as expected. But, unfortunately, these features cannot always be a guarantee of safety.

For instance, a video of a recent Tesla car accident recently surfaced raising concerns about the company’s autopilot mode. According to a recent article covering the incident, a large truck was lying on its side on the freeway, covering the entirety of the two lanes on the left. The traffic on the road was light, and the visibility was good—meaning the Tesla, driving in the farthest left lane, should have been able to see the truck. However, the Tesla drove at full speed directly into the top of the truck, indicating quite clearly that the driver was not paying attention. After the accident, the driver told authorities that the autopilot feature was on, raising interesting legal questions regarding liability.

While fortunately no one was hurt in the incident, similar accidents may cause severe injuries or even death. Maryland law allows those injured by negligent drivers to file a personal injury suit to recover for their injuries if they can prove the driver was at fault. In this case, a driver may want to blame Tesla and the failure of autopilot for causing the accident. However, it is important to keep in mind that autopilot mode is not intended to be a substitute for watching the road. While using the autopilot mode, Tesla drivers are still expected to pay attention to the road and keep their hands on the wheel. Not doing so is likely considered negligence and can be used to hold a driver liable for accidents that may occur while driving with autopilot on.

The majority of car accidents are preventable. While there are many causes of Maryland car accidents, most accidents are the result of a few very common negligent driving behaviors. In Maryland, one of the leading causes of car crashes is distracted driving. Distracted driving consists of any time a driver engages in behavior that removes their attention from the road. Distractions can be visual, auditory, manual or cognitive. For example, eating or drinking, changing the radio station, talking to a passenger, daydreaming and texting are all common examples of distracted driving behavior.

While many of the reasons for a driver’s distraction have been around for years, today, the most commonly cited reason for a distracted driving accident is cell phone use. This includes both talking on the phone as well as texting while driving. Currently, Maryland law prohibits the use of handheld devices while driving; however, hands-free devices can be used to make calls. Both talking and texting while driving are primary offenses, meaning a law enforcement officer can pull a motorist over for using their phone even if they are committing no other infractions.

The state department of transportation keeps very detailed records of all Maryland distracted driving accidents. In part, this is to gauge the effectiveness of government efforts to reduce the instances of distracted driving. On average, there are nearly 54,000 Maryland traffic accidents that are caused by distracted driving. These crashes result in nearly 18,000 injuries and 160 deaths. According to the most recent data from 2018, there were over 57,000 traffic accidents caused by distracted drivers. These accidents resulted in 18,102 injuries and 176 deaths.

Texting while driving remains a serious issue throughout the country. Despite the seriousness of the issue, prosecutions of drivers remain rare, and proving that a driver was using their phone can be tricky in Maryland car accident cases. Without proof that a driver sent a message just before a crash, it can be hard to show that a driver was using their phone, including reading a text message.

According to a recent news report, a woman was recently convicted of vehicular homicide in a rare texting while driving prosecution. In that case, a woman was out for a walk during a break from her job when she was hit by a car. A driver believed to have been texting had rear-ended another car, which crashed into the pedestrian. The crash occurred at around 8:20 a.m. on a weekday in September. The driver was charged with vehicular homicide because she was texting while driving, and a jury recently convicted the driver after a trial. The case was believed to be the first in which a jury considered whether texting while driving could be considered akin to drunk driving.

The driver’s trial centered on whether the driver had been texting while driving. The driver had received a text asking her about dinner plans. The prosecution argued that she had read the text and had typed the letters “m” and “e” as part of her response. The driver claimed that she was not texting at the time of the crash. She said that she had typed those letters but did not remember when and was planning to call the person instead. The driver testified that she had looked down to turn on a window defogger and that when she looked up, the other car was “right in front” of her.

Years ago, Maryland personal injury cases relied more on witness testimony than any other type of evidence. However, with recent technological advancements has come a recent reliance on new types of evidence. Video evidence is among that which is becoming more common. In some situations, courts must revisit old rules when dealing with new evidence.

In a recent opinion issued by a state appellate court, the court certified a question to the state’s supreme court regarding the use of video evidence. Specifically, the question involved how lower courts should handle video evidence at the summary judgment stage when the video flatly contradicts one parties testimony.

Summary judgment is a stage in many personal injury trials in which a party claims that, taking the agreed-upon facts, it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Generally, courts will consider the uncontested evidence and apply the law to the facts. If the court determines that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the court will enter judgment without the case ever going to trial.

Recently, a Virginia appellate court issued an opinion discussing the state’s dead man statute, which may preclude a witness from testifying to conversations that the witness had with someone who has died. Ultimately, the Virginia court determined that the deceased defendant’s statement was properly entered into evidence. While Maryland’s dead man’s statute is a little different than Virginia’s, this case helps illustrate the differences. As always, reach out to a Maryland car accident attorney for help answering questions about the facts of your specific situation.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was involved in a Virginia car accident where the defendant rear-ended him. After the crash but before the case reached trial, the defendant died from unrelated causes.

Evidently, at trial, liability was not at issue because the defendant’s estate admitted the defendant was at fault. However, the estate contested the amount of damages the plaintiff was seeking. In support of its case, the estate presented testimony from the deceased defendant’s son, who testified to a conversation he had with his father shortly after the accident in which the defendant told his son that the accident occurred at “five to seven miles per hour.”

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Despite the recent push by the federal and state governments, fatigued driving remains a leading cause of Maryland car accidents. The dangers of drowsy driving are undisputed, even when a driver remains awake. Drivers who do not obtain enough sleep, or are otherwise drowsy, suffer from decreased attention span, increased reaction time, and compromised judgment. Of course, there is also the chance that a driver falls asleep behind the wheel, losing all control of the vehicle.

It is estimated that 21% of all fatal motor vehicle accidents involve a fatigued driver. Most often, a driver experienced fatigue due to a lack of sleep. However, intoxication, medication, and various medical conditions can also cause sleepiness. In almost all cases, a driver should be able to notice the effects of drowsiness setting in and should pull off the road when it is no longer safe to operate a motor vehicle.

When a drowsy driver causes a Maryland car accident, anyone injured as a result of the accident may be entitled to compensation through a Maryland personal injury lawsuit. This includes passengers of the car being driven by the at-fault driver. However, establishing liability for a drowsy driving accident may not always be straightforward. Anyone considering filing a Maryland personal injury lawsuit should consult with a dedicated personal injury attorney.

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According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, each day, eight people are killed in preventable accidents that were caused by distracted driving. Furthermore, it is estimated that there are about 1,000 people who are injured per day in distracted driving accidents. Due to the recent increase in distracted driving and the continuing temptation for drivers to text or talk on the phone while behind the wheel, the National Safety Council designates the month of April as distracted driving awareness month.

Distracted driving can take many forms. Any time a driver engages in an activity that removes their attention from the road, they are engaging in distracted driving. A few of the most common examples of distracted driving are:

  • Talking or texting on a cell phone,
  • Eating or drinking,
  • Talking to a front- or rear-seat passenger,
  • Inputting a destination on a GPS system, and
  • Reading or playing games on a cell phone.

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Rear-end accidents are among the most common types of car accidents in Maryland. While most rear-end accidents that occur at a low speed are not likely to result in serious bodily injury, high-speed rear-end collisions often result in serious injury or death. For these reasons, the State Legislature in Maryland has made a concerted effort to deter distracted driving, one of the leading causes of rear-end collisions.

Efforts to Stop Distracted Driving

Distracted driving consists of engaging in any activity that takes a driver’s attention away from the road and others on it. It is a mistake to assume that distracted driving only includes visual distractions. In fact, most of the common causes of distracted driving are attention-based, rather than visual. These include the common culprits:  talking on the phone or texting, talking to passengers, and eating or drinking.

To help curb distract driving in Maryland, the State Legislature has enacted a tough hand-held device ban. Under the ban, drivers are prohibited from using any hand-held device while they are operating a motor vehicle. This includes talking on the phone and texting. It is only with a hands-free device that a Maryland driver can legally be on the phone while driving.

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Two years ago, the Maryland legislature passed a law making it a primary offense to talk on a cell phone while driving, and texting while driving has been against the law in Maryland for several years prior to the passage of that law. Since the passage of these laws, police have handed out thousands and thousands of these distracted-driving tickets to motorists in violation of the new law. However, according to a recent news report by a local NBC affiliate, drivers are not getting the message.

One Trooper interviewed in the article told reporters that a surprising amount of people are still using their hand-held phones while driving. He explained, “If they are not on it talking or texting, they’re using it for GPS, … They just haven’t got caught yet, and if they did, they just didn’t learn their lesson.”

Driving While Talking or Texting

The practice of driving while using a hand-held device is one of the most common forms of distracted driving. In fact, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration explains that drivers who text or talk on a hand-held device while driving are four times more likely to get into an accident resulting in serious injury to themselves or others. A spokesperson for the MVA told reporters that there are about 200 fatal accidents each year caused by distracted driving, many of which occurred while using hand-held devices.

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