What Is the Number One Cause of Motor Vehicle Accidents?

Motor vehicle accidents continue to be one of the leading causes of accidental deaths and injuries in the United States. These accidents occur for many reasons, but the most common cause of motor vehicle accidents in recent years is distracted driving. All drivers need to understand the importance of paying close attention to the road and eliminating distractions when operating their vehicles. Even momentary distraction can lead to devastating accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported nearly 3,200 deaths nationwide in 2020 caused by distracted driving.

If you or a loved one was recently injured due to another driver’s distraction, you have the right to take legal action against that driver and hold them accountable for your losses. If you expect to initiate any type of legal action in the near future for distracted driving, you must understand the legal definition of distracted driving, the behaviors that can qualify as distracted driving, and what to expect from your lawsuit.

What Is Distracted Driving?

“Distracted driving” is a relatively broad term that applies to any situation in which a driver is not paying full attention to operating their vehicle. The most common form of distracted driving is cell phone use, but there are several types of distractions, and multiple ways distraction can cause accidents.

Three general types of distractions can cause accidents while driving:

  1. Cognitive distractions are things that preoccupy a driver’s mind when they should be focused on driving. For example, suppose a person had a very stressful day at work or a fight with a relative before getting behind the wheel. In that case, their preoccupation with the day’s events could reduce their ability to account for changing traffic conditions.
  2. Visual distractions are things that divert a driver’s visual attention away from the road. Looking at a passenger to talk to them, glancing at a cell phone screen, or “rubbernecking” to look at something happening on the side of the road are all visual distractions that can cause accidents. Looking away from the road, even at moderate speed, equates to driving blind.
  3. Manual distractions occupy the driver’s hands when they should keep them on the vehicle’s controls. Typing a message on the phone, adjusting the car stereo or air conditioning, or rummaging for personal effects in the car are all examples of manual distractions.

Cell phone use is hazardous because it inherently encompasses all three forms of distraction in a single act. The driver is not paying cognitive attention to the road when they are thinking about a phone conversation or text message, they will likely look away from the road and at their phone screen, and the use of a cell phone requires at least one hand. Combine all three of these actions, and it should be easy to see why distracted driving is such a problem in the United States.

Many states, including California, have enacted laws banning cell phone use behind the wheel unless the driver has a hands-free attachment like a Bluetooth headset or speaker attachment that allows them to use their voice to control their phone. Violations of these laws typically lead to heavy fines and even criminal charges in some cases.

What Happens if a Distracted Driver Causes an Accident?

Distracted driving can easily lead to a serious accident, especially when a driver is distracted while traveling at higher speeds. Rear-end collisions are particularly common from distracted driving; if a driver is not paying attention and the car ahead of them slows or stops, they may not react in time to avoid hitting them. Drivers who are not paying attention may suddenly notice changing traffic patterns and swerve reflexively, hitting another driver in the adjacent lane.

If you or a loved one suffers injuries due to another driver’s failure to pay attention to the road, it is essential to know your rights and the value an experienced car accident attorney can provide to your situation. Proving distracted driving may seem difficult in some cases, but seasoned attorneys like those at McLachlan Law, APC, have the resources, skills, and experience to help you hold a negligent, distracted driver accountable for their actions.

Evidence used to prove distracted driving often includes the at-fault driver’s cell phone records and traffic camera footage. A traffic camera may capture clear images of the driver in question looking at their phone or engaging in another distracting action that caused the accident. Their phone records may prove their phone was in use at the exact time the crash occurred, and your attorney can cross-reference their phone records with your vehicle’s computer data to prove this.

Damages and Compensation for Distracted Driving Accidents

Distracted driving is a clear example of negligence. Every personal injury case hinges on the plaintiff’s ability to prove the defendant was negligent. To succeed with your personal injury claim, you and your attorney must prove that the defendant named in your claim was distracted when the accident occurred. You can accomplish this with physical evidence such as their cell phone records and traffic camera data, as well as eyewitness testimony.

Personal injury law allows an injured plaintiff to claim all damages resulting from a defendant’s negligence. You can potentially recover:

  • Immediate and future medical expenses resulting from your accident, such as hospital bills and required long-term rehabilitative care. Any car accident can potentially cause catastrophic injuries that require long-term medical care. No matter how severe your injuries may be, your attorney will help you gather the documentation you will need to prove the full scope of your medical expenses resulting from the accident.
  • Lost income, both immediately following your accident during your recovery time and lost earning capacity if your accident leaves you unable to work again in the future. It may be necessary to consult a financial expert witness to calculate how much you can claim in lost future earnings.
  • Property damage, such as the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle. If your car is destroyed in the accident, you will likely receive the car’s total cash value. Otherwise, you will receive repayment for repair costs.
  • Pain and suffering. Your attorney can help you determine an acceptable amount to claim based on your other damages and the severity of your injuries. Some injuries may qualify you to receive “per diem” pain and suffering compensation that provides a set amount of compensation every day you spend in recovery while more significant injuries may entitle you to a larger lump sum payment, typically your claimed medical expenses multiplied by a factor of two to five depending on the severity of your injuries.

Since distracted driving is illegal, it is also possible for a judge to award punitive damages to a victim. The amount awarded depends on the defendant’s overall wealth and the egregiousness of their actions. Unlike compensatory damages that aim to make the victim “whole” again, punitive damages aim to punish defendants and discourage similar actions in the future.

What Are the Three Biggest Factors in Motor Vehicle Accidents?

Distracted driving may be the most common cause of motor vehicle accidents in the US, but there are other causes that contribute to a large share of all the vehicle accidents that occur each year. Two of the other leading causes of motor vehicle accidents are:

  • Driving under the influence (DUI). It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Any driver who does so will face liability for victims’ civil damages and criminal prosecution. The number of prior DUI convictions will significantly influence the severity of the offender’s sentencing, and DUI conviction generally leads to fines, jail time, and loss of driving privileges.
  • Speeding. All drivers need to heed posted speed limits and move safely with the flow of traffic. Accidents that occur at higher speeds tend to result in more severe injuries and more significant vehicle damage.

Now that you know the top three most common causes of motor vehicle accidents in the US, it’s vital to take appropriate steps to protect yourself. Additionally, you should know to avoid these behaviors at all times to prevent yourself from absorbing liability for an accident.

What Is the Most Common Type of Car Accident?

By far, rear-end collisions are the most commonly reported type of car accident in the United States. Some rear-end collisions may only be minor fender-benders that result in cosmetic damage to vehicles’ bumpers; others are much more severe. It should be easy to see the strong connection between distracted driving and rear-end collisions; drivers who are not paying attention to the road ahead are more likely to crash into other vehicles.

In almost every case, the driver in the rear will be responsible for a rear-end collision, even if the driver in front stopped very suddenly. The only possible exceptions would be if the driver in front did not have functional brake lights and the driver in the rear had no way of telling they were slowing or stopping. It’s also common for rear-end collisions to generate multi-vehicle accidents, especially when the negligent driver in the rear of a line of cars hits another at considerable speed, sending the other car into the next vehicle in front of them. A rear-end collision caused by distracted driving could potentially mean the at-fault driver will face liability for more than one other driver’s damages.

What Happens if a Distracted Driver Causes a Fatal Accident?

If you have recently lost a loved one due to another driver operating their vehicle while distracted, it’s natural to feel a mix of uncertainty and anger knowing that your loved one died because the other driver was simply not paying attention to what they were doing. In this situation, you and your family would have the right to pursue a wrongful death action against the driver responsible for causing the fatal accident.

A wrongful death claim is very similar to a personal injury claim in many respects. This type of claim essentially replaces the personal injury claim the deceased would have had the right to file had they survived. Each state upholds unique laws for wrongful death claims, including who has the right to file these claims and the types of damages they can secure if they succeed with them. In California, the surviving spouse, child, or parent has the right to file a wrongful death claim, but this right may pass to another close relative or a personal representative of the deceased under certain conditions.

Why You Need Legal Representation

If you or a loved one suffered an injury due to a distracted driver, or if you lost a loved one in a distracted driving accident, legal representation will be crucial to securing compensation for your losses. The average person will have tremendous difficulty navigating a legal claim while recovering from their injuries or mourning a loved one’s tragic death. If you and your family find yourselves in this position, it is essential to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

While some people mistakenly believe they can save money on legal fees by handling their claims, the reality is that you stand to lose much more than you would gain if you forewent legal counsel. Your attorney will know how to maximize the compensation you receive from your claim, often uncovering channels of compensation that you would have likely overlooked on your own. Additionally, an experienced attorney can also help you quell any accusations of comparative negligence and make sure you do not lose any of your case award under California’s pure comparative negligence statute.

Ultimately, hiring an experienced car accident attorney is the best way to ensure you receive the recovery you deserve after a distracted driving accident. The team at McLachlan Law, APC can help you prove liability for your damages and hold the responsible driver accountable for their actions. Contact us today to schedule a consultation about your recent distracted driving accident, and we will let you know how our team can help.