Cell Phone Use Causing an AccidentIncreased cell phone use contributing to distracted driving across the nation has prompted more than 40 states to outlaw cell phone use while driving by making it a primary offense. In April 2019, Florida's legislature passed a bill, joining other states, to make texting and driving a primary offense. Florida's governor is likely to sign the bill in May 2019, with changes likely going into effect in July 2019.
Cell Phone Use Related Car Accident StatisticsUsing a cell phone, including texting, while operating a motor vehicle falls under the broad umbrella of distracted driving. According to the most recent data from Florida's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), distracted driving contributed to almost 270,000 accidents on Florida's roads in 2017, including 234 fatal crashes and more than 40,000 crashes with injuries. The FLHSMV also reports that more than 3,600 crashes related to electronic device distractions occurred in 2018. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers some specific insights into the extent of the problem on a national level. Even with harsh laws that ban cell phone use while driving in many other states, almost 15 percent of all distracted driving accidents across the nation involve a cell phone. Drivers from age 20 to 29 are the biggest culprits among those who use cell phones while driving, making up 35 percent of all cell phone-related fatal crashes. As a person ages, the likelihood that he or she uses a cell phone in the car drops. Comparatively, those from age 30 to 39 make up a little more than 20 percent of fatal accidents resulting from cell phones, while those from age 40 to 49 make up only 15 percent.
Injuries and Fatalities Due to Distracted DrivingFortunately, the vast majority of distracted driving accidents do not result in injuries; however, when injuries do occur, they are often serious. Many times when car accidents occur, drivers see the accident coming, especially when external hazards contribute to the accident. For example, a driver might slide on wet roads, come upon a jaywalker, or notice a vehicle in front of them that suddenly turns or stops. When drivers are engaging with their cell phones, they may not immediately see these hazards, if they see them at all. Drivers who see the hazards can try to stop or maneuver to avoid an accident; those who don't see the hazards don't make these maneuvers, often resulting in accidents occurring at high speeds. Drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and others on the road can be injured at low speeds, but motor vehicle collisions occurring at faster speeds are more likely to result in catastrophic injuries or fatalities. In addition to death, serious car accidents can result in a myriad of severe injuries, ranging from whiplash and traumatic brain injuries to broken bones, back injuries, spinal cord injuries, and the loss of limbs. Car accidents can also result in emotional injury, regardless of fault. Those injured must deal with the mental struggle of recovery and possibly even the emotional challenges involved with living with a permanent injury. Those who cause the car accident injury must live with the guilt of ending or significantly altering another person's life.
Traffic Citations and FinesFlorida cell phone law currently only prohibits texting and driving; talking on one's cell phone while driving is not illegal. The Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law, which passed in 2013, states that a driver cannot operate a motor vehicle while “manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device.” The law goes on to specify that drivers cannot send or read data related to texting, email, or instant messaging. The current law provides for exceptions in the following situations:
- Drivers can text when they are stopped at a traffic light or stuck in traffic.
- Drivers can text to report an emergency and report criminal activity to the police.
- Drivers can read texts related to driving, such as emergency, traffic, and weather information and alerts.
- Drivers can use a wireless device, including entering information into their phone, to navigate.
Higher Insurance PremiumsAt some point, after a driver receives a citation for texting and driving, his or her insurance company will find out about the ticket. Insurance premiums vary based on a person's driving history and the way the insurance company calculates risk. Oftentimes, first offenses won't increase premiums that much, if at all. Yet, texting and driving is a serious offense, even though Florida's laws are not harsh. Although each policy is different, CarInsurance.com estimates a driver's policy premiums will increase by about 27 percent, or almost $650 per year, after a texting and driving ticket. CarInsurance.com gathered rates from up to six major carriers from 10 ZIP codes in each state to calculate the insurance increase after one texting and driving citation. The CarInsurance.com data only examines rates after one violation. Drivers who get two or more violations can expect a larger increase. More than two violations might result in a non-renewal or cancellation. When law enforcement issues a texting and driving ticket in conjunction with severe accident and injury, it's likely to cause even higher premiums or cancellation if the insurance company has to pay out a large claim because of a negligent policyholder. The same applies when a car crash causes a fatality; the at-fault driver's insurance will most likely be involved in a wrongful death claim, resulting in a policy cancellation if they must pay a large claim.
License Suspension Due to Cell Phone UseLike other states, Florida's driver's licenses operate on a point system. Each infraction carries a point value. When law enforcement issues a ticket to a driver, the points for a particular ticket are added to that person's license if he or she pays the ticket without contesting the ticket in court. Points are calculated on the date a driver received the ticket. The following will result in suspension:
- 12 points within one year lead to a 30-day suspension.
- 18 points within 18 months lead to a 90-day suspension.
- 24-points within 26 months lead to a one-year suspension.
Economic ConsequencesWe've already discussed some of the economic consequences of using a cell phone while driving in Florida in relation to fines and higher insurance premiums, but those costs pale in comparison to the potential aftermath of a personal injury lawsuit if an accident occurs. Florida is a no-fault insurance state, so each driver involved in an accident files a claim under his or her required personal injury protection (PIP) and property damage liability (PDL) coverage. This does not let at-fault drivers off the hook. Florida PIP coverage only pays for 80 percent of medical expenses and 60 percent of lost wages after an accident, and it does not cover non-economic costs such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium, or scarring and disfigurement. Once an injury victim has exceeded PIP limits, it's likely that he or she will sue the at-fault driver. Severe accidents resulting in permanent disability and lifelong medical care can easily exceed the at-fault driver's bodily injury liability (BIL) coverage, leaving them open to personal loss. If a court rules in favor of a plaintiff, the defendant will be liable for any award not covered by insurance. This can result in wage garnishment and other financial agreements to ensure that the defendant pays all monies owed.
Commercial Drivers and Cell Phone UseThose who hold commercial driver's licenses in Florida like truck drivers must follow stricter laws than a driver with an ordinary license. Commercial vehicles like tractor-trailers are at high risk to cause especially dangerous truck accidents. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) governs safety standards and rules for all commercial vehicle drivers in the nation, and it has implemented a strict no-use policy in regard to cell phones. The FMCSA defines using a cell phone as:
- Using at least one hand to make a call with a phone
- Dialing by pressing more than one button
- Leaving the seated driving position while driving to reach for a phone
- Texting, emailing, instant messaging, or retrieving data from any of these actions
Changes To Florida's New Texting and Driving LawFlorida's new texting while driving bill is expected to go into effect sometime during 2019. The primary difference between the current law and the one likely to be signed by the governor is how it changes cell phone use while driving from a secondary traffic offense to a primary offense. This means law enforcement can pull a driver over for cell phone use and issue a ticket without needing another reason. Some other important highlights of the new law include:
- Drivers may still use their phone when stationary. This includes while at traffic lights and stuck in traffic.
- Law enforcement must record the ethnicity of all drivers who receive tickets to ensure that specific groups aren't being targeted.
- A police officer cannot search a motorist's phone without a warrant unless an accident occurs involving injury or a fatality.
- Drivers must be hands-free in work zones and school zones.
- The law does not apply to people operating self-driving cars.
How Dolman Law Group Can Help With Your Car Accident ClaimThe skilled car accident lawyers at Dolman Law Group have been helping those that have suffered from personal injury accidents for years and want to help give you some peace of mind. Allow us to fight for the justice you deserve. Our attorneys can offer legal representation tailored to your needs so that your case is best positioned to recover fair compensation for damages you suffered because of your car accident. We will investigate your case thoroughly to gather evidence, contact witnesses, assess and calculate your damages, help you gather all necessary documentation, as well as level the playing field with insurance companies and communicate with them on your behalf. Without the necessary education, resources, and experience offered by a personal injury lawyer, you run a high risk of making mistakes that can lower the maximum potential compensation offered by a pedestrian accident claim or you may have your claim denied altogether.
Contact Dolman Law Group for Help With Your Car Accident ClaimIf you have been injured or lost a loved one in a car accident because another driver was using a cell phone, Florida law entitles you to sue for damages after you have exceeded your personal injury protection (PIP) coverage limits. Our experienced car accident attorneys can help you fight to recover compensation for the full cost of your injuries, so you can focus on healing and recovery. Call Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, and Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH), or contact us online, to schedule a free consultation and to discuss your case with a member of our legal team. Under Florida law, you have two years to take legal action after a wrongful death and four years in personal injury cases. We proudly serve clients from our offices across both Florida coasts. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 33765 (727) 451-6900 https://www.dolmanlaw.com/florida-personal-injury-lawyer/