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The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) estimates that approximately 20,000 traffic collisions occur each year across San Diego County. These only include crashes resulting in severe injuries and fatalities. Several thousand more include minor fender-benders and collisions resulting in minor or no injuries. The majority of car accidents in San Diego and throughout the United States are preventable, especially those that occur because of negligent driver behaviors.
Distracted driving is among the most dangerous of all negligent driver behaviors and remains the most common cause of collisions in San Diego and throughout the nation. Below we take a closer look at distracted driving, associated laws and penalties, and what to do if you are involved in a San Diego traffic accident caused by a distracted driver.
Most think of cell phones when they think of distracted driving. Cell phones are indeed at the top of the list for dangerous driver distractions, but they are not the only distractions that impede safe vehicle operation. Local and federal government agencies that spend time and money studying traffic safety agree that driving distractions fall into one or more of three categories: manual distractions, visual distractions, and cognitive distractions.
Most people think of manual distractions when they think of distracted driving. Manual distractions include any activities that disrupt a driver’s physical control of their vehicle. When drivers lose control of their vehicles, dangerous accidents happen.
Examples of driver activities that can lead to a driver losing control of their vehicle include:
Any situation that requires a driver to take one or both hands off the wheel, even for a second, puts them and others at risk for an accident and injuries.
Operating a passenger vehicle safely requires full visibility of the road. Various scenarios can interfere with a driver’s view and potentially cause a dangerous distracted driving accident. Reading texts, emails, or social media posts on a cell phone is a common visual driving distraction. However, watching events outside a vehicle also distracts drivers. Accidents, fires, explosions, and other events cause drivers to take their eyes off the road. Anything more than a glance might cause a driver to run a stoplight or stop sign, hit a cyclist, knock down a pedestrian, or cause an accident with another vehicle.
Driving safely also requires mental focus on the road and the task and hand. However, drivers with and without passengers sometimes experience cognitive distractions that interfere with their ability to keep their minds on the road. One of the most common cognitive distractions for drivers is daydreaming, especially if they do not have passengers. However, intense conversations and arguments with passengers or via a phone call can also serve as dangerous cognitive driver distractions.
Above we provided an overview of the three types of driving distractions, but most distract drivers in more than one way. For example, texting and driving require a driver’s hands, mind, and eyes, making it the most dangerous type of driving distraction. Similarly, reaching for a dropped item in the vehicle typically takes a driver’s eyes off the road and hands off the wheel.
As previously discussed, distracted driving includes various activities, but distracted driving tickets in California typically only include cell phone use. Like many other states, California prohibits drivers from using cell phones while operating a vehicle unless they use a hands-free device. The state prevents all drivers under the age of 18 from using any mobile electronic devices. Those who violate California’s cell phone laws face increasing fines with each offense.
When other driver distractions lead to a San Diego car accident, and law enforcement chooses to issue a citation, they often issue a reckless driving ticket. However, police officers have discretion in these situations and may not always issue a citation unless the distraction was obvious. It is much to prove negligence when an at-fault driver receives a traffic citation, but proving a driver was distracted is still sometimes challenging. Fortunately, an experienced lawyer can dig deeper to uncover facts that prove distracted driving, such as surveillance camera footage, traffic camera footage, and cell phone records.
California law does have some exceptions for drivers using cell phones while operating a vehicle. If you have suffered injuries in a San Diego distracted driving accident, it could have been because a driver had a legitimate reason to use their cell phone without a hands-free device.
Examples of scenarios that typically warrant an exception under the law include:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that eight people die each day across the United States due to distracted drivers, and around 400,000 suffer injuries from distracted driving accidents. You might think only drivers and passengers are in danger of accidents and injuries, but the CDC warns that 20 percent of people who suffer distracted driving injuries are not riding in a car or truck.
Examples of San Diego area residents who could fall victim to a distracted driver include:
After being involved in a distracted driving accident, California law permits you to take legal action against the driver who caused the accident and your injuries. To win your case and receive the maximum amount of compensation for your injuries, you must take every step possible to preserve the value of your claim. Depending on the situation, you might not complete every step below; however, taking these actions in the minutes, hours, and days following your accident gives you the best chance for a positive outcome.
When a severe traffic collision occurs, paramedics typically arrive on the scene and transport the injured via ambulance to Scripps Mercy Hospital, Kindred Hospital, UC San Diego Medical Center, or another nearby emergency room. Sometimes car accident victims are fortunate enough to remain conscious and walk away from an accident. Some even refuse medical treatment at the scene because they don’t want to see a doctor over a few bumps and bruises or a little soreness.
This can be a fatal mistake. Your health and safety are the top priority, so you need to let a doctor check you out, even if you are only a little sore. Soreness and bruising can indicate hidden injuries like internal organ damage, broken ribs, and brain injuries. Left untreated, hidden injuries can lead to death.
After a San Diego distracted driving accident, seeking medical attention also creates a permanent medical record related to the accident that documents treatment and recovery. Your record provides evidence to support your accident injury claim, making it difficult for insurance adjusters and investigators to deny that the accident caused your injuries. It’s also in your best interest to follow your doctor’s treatment orders so the other side cannot argue you made your injuries worse than they otherwise would have been.
After a traffic collision, the San Diego Police or California Highway Patrol will likely come to the accident. They will interview everyone involved and gather information for their official police report. You can get a copy of this report about two weeks after the officer files it, and you will often have all the information you need to take legal action.
However, law enforcement sometimes makes mistakes or forgets to include important facts in their reports, or only one person’s interpretation of the narratives they heard about the accident. If you can physically gather the contact information of the other driver and any eyewitnesses, and it’s safe to do so, you should record their names, phone numbers, emails, etc. You should also request the other driver’s insurance information.
Additionally, take note of the:
After you get an official copy of the report, you can verify the reporting officer provided the same information you recorded. Also, you will have ample information to share with a lawyer who can investigate the accident.
If you can move around after a San Diego distracted driving accident, use your cell phone to take photos and/or video of the accident scene. Take pictures of any property damage, license plates, and visible injuries. Include close-up photos as well as expansive photos of the entire scene.
In San Diego traffic, you will likely have to move your vehicle to the side of the road, if possible, for the safety of others. This disturbs and sometimes completely ruins evidence that can support your claim. Police take photos at accident scenes, but sometimes they do not get there soon enough to take pictures before vehicles move. Additionally, if a distracted driver gets anxious waiting for law enforcement and decides to leave the scene of the accident, you have the evidence you need.
Although another driver caused the accident, you need to contact your auto insurance provider to report the accident as soon as possible. Many insurance policies require policyholders to report all major accidents. Failure to report an accident could lead to cancellation or non-renewal. Additionally, you might have optional coverage that kicks in or need to file a claim under your uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage.
After a serious traffic collision, insurance adjusters and third-party investigators will do everything in their power to uncover all the facts of your case. They especially will look for things they can use to deny or devalue your accident injury claims. One tactic the other side sometimes uses is to scour social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., for any posts or images that can hurt an accident victim’s case.
Innocent photos and posts about anniversary parties, graduations, or family vacations sometimes provide ammunition for insurance companies and their legal teams. It’s best to avoid sharing any posts on your social media account until your San Diego distracted driving accident is settled or litigated. You should also make all accounts private, so outsiders have difficulty finding the information they want.
Skilled attorneys know how to communicate and negotiate with insurance companies that sometimes employ questionable tactics against car accident victims. Involving a lawyer in your claims process as soon as possible ensures you have protection when the other side tries to blame you for the accident.
A lawyer can also help your distracted driving case by:
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