Mobile, AL – For many decades, motor vehicle crashes have been among the leading causes of accidental death in the United States. However, in the early 2000s, something began to change. Total highway fatalities plummeted to their lowest levels since the 1960s. Unfortunately, in the last few years, there has been a sharp, and very distressing, positive turn in the trend. Car accident deaths in the U.S. are once again on the rise. Many believe that increased distracted driving accidents are to blame. There is no question that traffic deaths are up. Indeed, data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), indicates that traffic fatalities rose by more than 7 percent in the year 2015. Additionally, in 2016, traffic deaths were up by more than 10 percent.

Why Are Traffic Deaths Rising? The Current Expert Assessment

The theory that puts blame for increased traffic deaths on distracted driving makes intuitive sense. Some observers argue that:

● Driving while using a cell phone is dangerous;
● Drivers increasingly have access to smartphones and other devices;
● At the same time, serious accidents are on the rise; and
● Therefore, a causal connection can be drawn.

Recently, The Washington Post took a look at the data and consulted with experts to see if this theory held out in reality. The results of their research are instructive. First and foremost, the Washington Post found that there is a relatively mundane reason why motor vehicle accidents are rising: People are driving more. A stronger economy, a lower unemployment rate, and relatively modest fuel prices have led to conditions that result in more driving. When the NHTSA accident statistics are adjusted per vehicle mile driven, it paints a slightly different picture. For instance, in 2015 the NHTSA found that while highway accident deaths were up by more than 7 percent overall, they were only up by 3.5 percent per vehicle mile traveled. In other words, it is likely that approximately half of the increase in overall highway fatalities can be directly attributed to increased driving. The is a big explaining factor. However, that still leaves a large gap to fill. While experts find that it is still too early to definitively blame cell phones and other devices for the remaining gap, there is good reason to believe that distracted driving is a significant cause.

Distracted driving is extremely dangerous

The data on this is crystal clear: Using a cell phone while behind the wheel of a car is inherently dangerous. According to crash data provided by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, there were 254,829 car accidents reported in the state in the year 2014. Of those crashes, 200,052 were determined to be the fault of human error. Nearly 25 percent of all crashes caused by human error were caused by distracted driving. That makes it far and away the single biggest cause of car accidents in New York State. Of course, not all distracted driving is caused by smartphone use. Distracted driving comes in many different forms, and can include things like eating, adjusting the radio and talking to a passenger. That being said, many of the worst forms of driver distraction are related to smartphones. Beyond talking on the phone, there is also the temptation to send or read text messages, browse the internet, use apps and watch videos. Many of these are unique distraction risks that have just started to become prevalent in recent years. There needs to be more education to reduce the risks of distracted driving.

Distracted Driving is Negligence

All drivers have a legal duty to operate their vehicle with a sufficient level of prudence and skill. The failure to use reasonable care while behind the wheel is a form of negligence. In New York, negligence can be the basis for establishing liability for a personal injury lawsuit. When a driver is distracted while behind the wheel, they are not able to operate their vehicle with the required level of care. As such, they are also negligent. The law is clear on this issue: distraction, whether due to cell phone use, texting or any other activity, is negligence. Though, as New York is a no-fault insurance state, a lawsuit can only be brought in relation to a motor vehicle accidents in cases where the victim has sustained major economic losses or a serious injury.

New York’s No Fault Insurance- The Serious Injury Threshold

The state of New York has a ‘no-fault’ insurance law. Under New York’s no-fault system, car accident victims must seek recovery for basic economic losses from their own insurance company. If you suffer property damage or moderate economic losses, your legal claim will be against your own insurer. It does not matter whether or not you were to blame for the accident. Fault is simply not a relevant issue in these cases.

However, if you sustained more than $50,000 in economic damages, you can seek compensation from the party who was at-fault for your accident. Additionally, if you suffered a ‘serious injury’ then you can file a lawsuit against the at-fault party in order to seek ‘non-economic’ damages. More specifically, you can seek compensation for the most common type of non-economic damage: pain and suffering. Under New York law, the following conditions are listed as qualifying as a ‘serious injury’:

● Dismemberment;
● Disfigurement;
● Fractures;
● Permanent damage to a bodily organ;
● Substantially disabling injuries or conditions; and
● Death.