Distracted driving is dangerous behavior and can even be fatal. In 2019, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that over 3,000 people were killed by distracted driving.
Many states like Wisconsin have passed laws to ban or prevent distracted driving behaviors, like texting, making a call, or even using features in a vehicle like GPS. Even with these laws in place, distracted driving is still a problem. In 2015, there were over 24,000 motor vehicle crashes in Wisconsin attributed to distracted driving.
It’s important to know what to do if you’ve been involved in an accident involving a distracted driver, which is what the Boller & Vaughan team explain below. If you need further help understanding your legal options after an accident, call our Madison, Wisconsin, office at 608-268-0268 or contact us online.
What is Distracted Driving?
These occur when a driver looks at anything other than the road. Visual distractions can include:
- Looking at GPS devices
- Visually checking children or pets in the car
- Reading texts
These occur when a driver takes one or both hands off the wheel. Manual distractions can include:
- Composing or sending a text
- Adjusting the stereo, heat or air conditioning in your vehicle
- Eating or drinking
- Personal grooming
- Looking for an item in a bag or in the vehicle
These occur when a driver’s mind is not focused on driving. Cognitive distractions can include:
- Talking on your phone (even in hands-free mode)
- Listening to music or a podcast
- Talking to passengers in your vehicle
These distracted driving behaviors are dangerous because they divert your attention from the road in an attempt to multitask and save time. Even though all of these activities can be called distracted driving, using a phone is one of the most prevalent and dangerous behaviors.
A car traveling at 55 miles per hour covers more than 80 feet per second. Texting takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. That means that the car will travel the length of a football field without any visual guidance, according to the NHTSA.
Distracted driving laws in Wisconsin
In Wisconsin, texting while driving is against the law for all drivers. The texting ban is a primary enforcement law, which means police officers can stop motorists suspected of texting and for no other reason. The only exception to the cell phone usage law is to report an emergency.
Drivers who violate this law may get a ticket for inattentive driving, a fine, and four points on their license. If a driver with a learner’s permit is caught texting, they may receive double the amount of points on their license, and may also have to wait six months to be eligible for a probationary license.
How Law Enforcement Can Spot Distracted Drivers
Because distracted driving laws vary by state, the ways in which police officers spot distracted driving may differ. Generally, law enforcement may look for “indicators” in order to stop a distracted driver. The NHTSA lists the following examples of distracted driving indicators:
- Nearly striking an object or vehicle
- Failing to stay in a lane or driving into opposing or crossing traffic
- Slow response to traffic signals
- Illegal or abrupt turns
- Failing to maintain a consistent speed
- Failing to signal
- Looking down intermittently
- Glow from a device’s screen
- Holding a phone to one’s ear
With the exception of the last two indicators, all of these examples can relate to any distracted driving behavior previously listed, not just activities involving a cell phone.
If a police officer spots one or many of these indicators, they’ll need to thoroughly document what they observed. In the event of a crash, physical evidence will be collected and examined for signs of distracted driving. For example, phones or other distractions present in the vehicle like food, drinks, bags or even other passengers can indicate distracted driving.
What to Do After a Distracted Driving Accident
If you’re hit by a distracted driver, the first thing you should do is call the police and request an ambulance so you can receive medical attention right away. Even if you or anyone else involved in the accident appears to be fine, it’s important to get checked for injuries that may not show up immediately. A medical report can also serve as evidence should you decide to file a lawsuit.
While waiting for the police and ambulance, gather information from the other parties involved in the accident and any witnesses present. Get information such as:
- Their name
- Contact information
- Insurance information
- Make, model, driver’s license number, and license plate number
Don’t talk about the accident itself, offer explanations, or apologize. You may inadvertently assign blame to yourself if you do so. Take photos of your vehicle, the other vehicle, your injuries, the location of the accident, damaged objects like signs or guardrails, skid marks on the roads, and anything that may be helpful as evidence.
If you notice the other driver was driving distracted, make notes on your phone or on a notepad of their behaviors. Were they swerving, speeding, or making an illegal turn? Did they appear to be using their phone? Were their eyes off the road or hands off the wheel? This can help you prove your case.
You should also call your insurance company and report the accident. Be honest and accurate and stick to the facts. Avoid speaking to the insurance company representatives of the other drivers involved.
Finally, contact a car accident attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help you figure out the next steps you should take to collect evidence and begin a claim.
Injured by a Distracted Driver in Wisconsin? Our Injury Lawyer Team Can Help
A car accident, especially one that could have been avoided if someone wasn’t driving distracted, is a jarring and overwhelming experience. A personal injury lawyer who has experience navigating car accident lawsuits can help you understand your legal options and provide support to help you work through it.
If you or a loved one in Wisconsin has been involved in an accident caused by a distracted driver, contact the attorneys at Boller & Vaughan.