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Traffic Deaths Are on the Rise: Is Distracted Driving the Reason?

During the early 2000s, motor vehicle accident deaths in the U.S. fell to the lowest levels seen in nearly four decades. However, in recent years, the numbers have gone in the opposite direction.

Car accident deaths in the U.S. are on the rise once again. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that traffic fatalities rose by more than 7 percent in the year 2015. Additionally, in 2016, traffic deaths went up by more than 10 percent.

Many traffic safety experts believe that an increase in distracted driving may be contributing to this increase.

Why Are Traffic Deaths Rising?

Recently, The Washington Post analyzed the NHTSA’s fatal traffic crash data and consulted with experts about the factors driving up those numbers.

According to the Post, one reason for the rise in fatal accidents is that people across the country are simply driving more. This increase in driving is due, in part, to conditions such as a stronger economy, lower unemployment rate, and relatively modest fuel prices.

Consider this: In 2015, the NHTSA reported that, while highway accident deaths were up by more than 7 percent overall, they were up by only 3.5 percent per vehicle mile traveled.

In other words, it is likely that approximately half of the increase in overall highway fatalities could be directly attributed to increased driving.

However, what factors account for the other half? While experts find that it is still too early to definitively blame drivers’ use of cell phones and other devices, there is good reason to believe that distracted driving could be a significant cause.

Distracted Driving is Extremely Dangerous

Using a cell phone while behind the wheel of a car is inherently dangerous. According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, there were 254,829 car accidents reported in the state in 2014.

Human error caused 200,052 of those crashes – and out of those accidents, nearly 25 percent could be attributed to distracted driving, making that driving conduct the single biggest cause of car accidents in New York State.

Of course, not all distracted driving involves cell phone use. Distracted driving actually comes in many different forms. It can also include eating, adjusting the radio and talking to a passenger while driving.

With that said, many of the worst forms of driver distraction are related to smartphone use. Beyond talking on the phone, drivers may also send or read text messages, browse the Internet, use apps and watch videos while behind the wheel.

Distracted Driving is Negligence

All drivers have a legal duty to operate their vehicles with a sufficient level of skill and prudence. The failure to use reasonable care while behind the wheel is a form of negligence.

In New York, negligence can be the basis for establishing liability in a personal injury lawsuit. When a driver is distracted while behind the wheel, the driver is unable to operate his or her vehicle with the required level of care. As such, the driver could be deemed to be negligent.

New York is a no-fault insurance state. So, a lawsuit can be brought against another driver who causes a motor vehicle accident only where the victim has suffered major economic losses or a serious injury.

The Serious Injury Threshold in New York

Under New York’s no-fault system, car accident victims must seek a recovery for their basic economic losses from their own insurance company.

So, if you suffer property damage or moderate economic losses, your legal claim will be against your own insurer. It does not matter whether you were to blame for the accident. The fault is simply not a relevant issue in those cases.

However, if you sustained more than $50,000 in economic damages, you can seek compensation from the party who was at fault for your accident.

Additionally, if you suffered a “serious injury,” then you can file a lawsuit against the at-fault party in order to seek non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.

The following conditions are considered to be a “serious injury” under New York law:

  • Dismemberment
  • Disfigurement
  • Fractures
  • Permanent damage to a bodily organ
  • Substantially disabling injuries or conditions
  • Deaths.

Were You Seriously Injured By a Distracted Driver?

At Powers & Santola, LLP, our New York auto accident lawyers have extensive experience handling injury claims. If you were seriously injured in a distracted driving crash, please contact our team today to receive a free case evaluation. From our offices in Albany and Syracuse, we represent victims throughout the Capital District and Upstate New York.

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