According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FHSMV), there were 401,851 motor vehicle crashes in the Sunshine State in 2018. Those accidents resulted in 3,150 deaths and 254,484 injuries. The rates were similar in 2017, and preliminary data from the first three months of 2019 suggests the State is on track for the same number of accidents this year, as well. That is a lot of Floridians affected by what are, for the most part, preventable crashes.
FHSMV works day-in and day-out to promote safe driving in our communities. In the spirit of those efforts, the attorneys and legal professionals at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman want everyone who uses Florida roads to learn about the most common causes of car accidents. We hope that by providing our readers with some detail about how the majority of accidents happen, we can do our part to prevent accidents.
Drug and Alcohol Impairment
According to FHSMV’s crash data, there were over 6,000 crashes in which drug and/or alcohol impairment played a “confirmed” role in 2017, leaving thousands of drivers, passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians injured or tragically killed. There are likely tens of thousands more crashes every year in which drug and/or alcohol impairment is a contributing factor but cannot be officially “confirmed.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that Florida drivers historically have a higher-than-average reported rate of alcohol use than drivers across the nation. Drug and/or alcohol use behind the wheel slows reaction times, limits short term memory, reduces hand-eye coordination, weakens concentration, and makes it difficult to perceive time and distance.
Under Florida law, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, any chemical substance, or any controlled substance such that the driver’s “normal faculties are impaired.” The law treats impairment by any and all substances exactly the same. That includes impairment resulting from the use of prescription drugs. Drivers convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) face stiff penalties that include fines, incarceration, and suspension of driving privileges.
Drivers who injure others while under the influence of drugs or alcohol also face potential civil liability under Florida law. Although Florida is a no-fault auto insurance state in which all drivers turn first to their own insurance for coverage after an accident regardless of who was “at fault,” the law authorizes civil lawsuits by victims of accidents resulting in death and/or serious injuries. Others may also face liability for the driver’s behavior, such as when a pharmaceutical manufacturer fails to warn of dangerous side effects of a drug that causes driver impairment.
FHSMV crash data reflects that speeding and/or driving too fast for conditions kills and injures thousands of Florida residents and visitors every year. According to the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) 2018 Highway Safety Plan:
“The chances of dying in a crash doubles for every 10 miles per hour (mph) a car travels above 50 mph. Speeding reduces the time a driver has to react to a dangerous situation and increases the impact energy and risk of death in the event of a crash.”
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) calculates that one out of every four fatalities on U.S. roads involves speeding and/or driving too fast for conditions. Speeding plays an especially deadly role in crashes involving alcohol use and wet road surfaces, according to NHTSA, insofar as both of those factors make it more difficult to stop or avoid dangers. Young men tend to be the group most at risk for dying in speeding accidents.
Under Florida law, “no person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing. In every event, speed shall be controlled as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any person, vehicle, or other conveyance or object on or entering the highway in compliance with legal requirements and the duty of all persons to use due care.” Drivers must follow speed limits, of course, but speed limits do not necessarily define a “safe” speed in all conditions. If conditions require a lower speed to operate a car safely, then that is the speed every driver should travel.
Speeding and driving too fast for conditions puts everyone on the road at risk for serious injuries and fatalities. Drivers who speed or drive too fast for conditions face potential legal liability to those they injure, even if they were driving under the speed limit when an accident happened.
FHSMV data reveal that driver distraction of one form or another played a contributing role in a staggering 51,258 accidents in Florida in 2018, resulting in 3,003 incapacitating injuries and 227 deaths. Distressingly, the annual number of distracted driving crashes has risen by roughly 25 percent since 2014. Though electronic device use is a persistent contributor to these crashes, bar far the largest factor in these accidents is simple driver “inattention.” Driver distraction consists of anything that takes the driver’s focus away from the act of driving safely, whether it’s using a device, putting on makeup, or even daydreaming.
Still, electronic device use gets lots of attention in campaigns to prevent distracted driving, and for good reason. It is incredibly dangerous to use a handheld screen while also trying to operate a motor vehicle. No matter how confident you are in your abilities to multi-task, science has shown that your brain simply isn’t built to focus on a task like texting while also driving safely. Which is why FHSMV encourages all drivers to “Put It Down” when they’re behind the wheel.
To add teeth to the “Put It Down” initiative, the Florida Legislature also recently passed the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law. As of July 1, 2019, Florida drivers can be stopped and cited for texting while driving, and multiple citations can lead to fines and points on your license. In addition to potential moving violations, drivers who cause an accident while engaging in unsafe, distracted driving behaviors face potential civil liability to anyone they injure in an accident caused by their distracted driving.
FHSMV reports that there were 4,329 crashes caused by drowsy driving in 2017, which is the latest year for which data is currently available. 305 people sustained serious bodily injuries, and 28 people died, as a result of those crashes. According to FHSMV, the two main causes of drowsy driving are a lack of sleep or driving at a time of day when you would normally be sleeping. Whatever the cause, the effects of drowsy driving mimic those of driving under the influence. Getting behind the wheel while your body wants to sleep can slow your thought processes and reaction times, affect your vision and judgment, impair your senses and abilities, and cause “micro-napping” or dozing behind the wheel.
The best way to avoid drowsy driving is to get enough sleep before driving, and to avoid driving at times of day when you normally sleep. In our hectic lives, however, neither of those solutions is always possible. If you have to drive on inadequate sleep or at odd hours, take frequent breaks, stay hydrated, and pull off if you feel even a slight feeling of drowsiness. Better to nap for 20 minutes in a shopping center parking lot than get into a fatal accident.
All drivers should also take note that driving while drowsy can leave them with potential legal liability in the same manner as driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If you take the wheel on minimal rest and ignore the warning signs of drowsiness, then you could have to pay money damages to anyone seriously injured in an accident caused by your drowsiness.
Wrong Way Driving
FHSMV also reports that driving the wrong way on a road or in an improper lane results in over 1,400 crashes annually, on average, with hundreds of injuries and deaths as a result. Though less common than other potentially fatal accidents, wrong way collisions pose a significant danger because so many of them result in head-on collisions, which are especially deadly.
Wrong way driving accidents tend to happen between dusk and dawn. Sometimes they result from driver inattention or impairment, but another significant factor is simple lack of familiarity with roads and traffic patterns. Florida, with its large population of tourists and seasonal residents, has an especially large population of drivers prone to making wrong way driving errors.
Even the innocent error of driving the wrong direction on a one-way street can result in serious injuries and death, however. Consequently, drivers who cause these accidents face potential civil and criminal liability for their actions, particularly because so many of these accidents result in catastrophic damage to vehicles and harm to drivers and passengers.
Sometimes, accidents happen even when a driver follows all of the rules of the road. Automotive defects represent a frequent non-driver related cause of accidents. Though rare relative to accidents caused by driver behaviors, defects can have deadly consequences. Recent defective products that have found their way into cars include airbags, tires, and braking systems, to name just a few.
Under Florida law, manufacturers of consumer products—which include cars and car parts—have a legal duty not to sell products that are unreasonably dangerous when used for their intended purpose. When a manufacturer sells a defective product and it harms someone, such as by causing a motor vehicle to crash, that manufacturer faces potential legal liability for damages.
We have enviable weather here in the Sunshine State. Perhaps not surprisingly, according to the FHSMV, most of the car accidents that happen here occur in clear conditions on dry roads. Still, wet roads and bad weather do account for a significant number of crashes in Florida on an annual basis.
While no one can control the weather, there are people in our state that have a duty to design, build, and maintain roads that are safe for drivers to use. Accidents can happen because of bad sight lines at intersections, the failure to clean up road surfaces after an accident, and the lack of adequate signage or traffic signals in locations where necessary to warn of dangerous conditions. When these road hazards result in an accident, the authorities with responsibility for preventing them could face legal liability to anyone harmed.
What Caused Your Accident?
The categories above represent some of the most common causes of car accidents in Florida. For lawyers who represent victims of car accidents, one of the most important tasks is to identify what caused the accident that harmed the lawyer’s client. Some accidents have a single, clear cause. But as the materials we’ve linked to above show, many accidents have multiple causes, some evident, some hidden. Lawyers must sometimes act as detectives—or hire experts to fill that role—to uncover just what led to a catastrophic crash, and who faces potential legal liability as a result.
In conducting that investigation, lawyers often rely in part on reports written by police officers and first responders. But skilled car accident attorneys also delve deeper by interviewing witnesses, visiting the accident scene, and if possible and necessary, conducting forensic evaluations of physical evidence (such as damaged cars and car parts). It is not unusual for a diligent lawyer to find that an accident that looked like it had a single, obvious cause in fact had several, more complex contributing factors.
If you have sustained injuries in a car accident that you believe might not have been your fault, seek the advice of an attorney who routinely represents clients in motor vehicle accident matters. Attorneys with years of experience investigating and pursuing damages for accidents have the resources and know-how to spot, investigate, and prove causes of accidents that less-experienced attorneys might often miss.
If you or someone you care about was injured in a motor vehicle crash, contact Dolman Law Group today for a free evaluation of your case. Call 727-451-6900.