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Proving Distracted Driving in an Accident Claim

 In the majority of states, legislation exists that strictly prohibits drivers from engaging in texting activities while operating a vehicle.


When it comes to talking on your phone, 24 states currently ban the use of all handheld devices while driving, and this crackdown on cell phone use is in response to the growing number of distracted driving accidents. Cell phones are considered one of the primary distractions for drivers.


So, how common are distracted driving accidents? In 2020, the nation reported 3,142 fatalities annually in distracted driving accidents. In New York, 12% of automobile crashes with fatalities were caused by a distracted driver.


While these statistics are alarming it also doesn’t mean you’re destined to be involved in an accident with a distracted driver. However, if you are in a distracted driving accident there are some steps you should take to help protect your legal rights.

The Dangers of Distracted Driving

Driver inattention is a common cause of vehicle accidents. All it takes is a second of inattention for an accident to occur. Safe driving requires visual, cognitive, and physical alertness. This means keeping your mind on driving, your eyes on the road, and your hands on the steering wheel.


While cell phones are frequently blamed for distracted driving accidents, and for a good reason, they’re not the only things that can take drivers’ attention off the road. Some other common distractions drivers can face are:


       Passenger distractions

       Taking care of children and pets

       Eating while driving

       Grooming such as applying makeup, combing hair, and even using a cordless shaver

       Playing the radio too loud

       Adjusting the controls in the vehicle like the radio, heater, air conditioner, or GPS for example


According to the New York State Police, over 87,000 car crashes reported in 2018 were caused by distracted driving. NY State Police also issued over 2,000 tickets for driver inattention during the first week of April in 2023.


So, what is the penalty for a distracted driving offense involving cell phone use in New York? Fines for your first offense typically range from $50 to $200 and you also get one point on your driver’s license.


Fines typically increase for second, third, and subsequent offenses, along with the number of points tacked onto your license. If you receive 11 points within 18 months, your driver’s license is temporarily suspended.

Steps to Take If You Suspect Distracted Driving

If you suspect someone of distracted driving, there are a few things you should and shouldn’t do. You don’t want to confront the driver. This applies whether or not an accident occurred. Making an accusation can get emotions running high. The last thing you want is to be involved in an altercation with another driver.


Instead, you should contact the authorities. If the driver’s inattention results in an accident, dial 9-1-1 to report the collision. While you’re on the phone with the emergency operator, be sure to mention you suspect distracted driving as a primary cause of the accident.


If you simply notice another vehicle going by and the driver is paying attention to something other than the road, you can contact the state’s non-emergency line at 3-1-1. 


Don’t worry about staying close to the distracted driver after reporting their suspected behavior. Just provide the operator with the vehicle's make, model, color, and license plate number. You’ll also need to state your location and the direction the other driver is traveling.

How to Prove Distracted Driving After an Accident

Proving distracted driving isn’t exactly a piece of cake. However, it’s something you must do if you’re planning on filing an accident claim. Part of the claim process is listing the cause of the accident, and proving negligence


So, how do you prove the at-fault driver’s attention was not on the road? Witness testimony can help provide supporting evidence. For example, maybe a witness saw the at-fault driver using their cell phone seconds before the accident occurred. If the collision happens at an intersection, you may be able to take advantage of traffic camera footage.


Depending on the camera’s angle, it may show the driver before and during the crash. This can also apply to security cameras in businesses and even in residences. Don’t forget about doorbell cams. You may be surprised at what a doorbell camera picks up.


You may also need to subpoena the at-fault driver’s cell phone records. Yes, this can feel a little like an invasion of their privacy, but it may be a necessary step toward proving your accident claim. The only downside is the time it can take to receive the subpoena and for the cellular company to respond.


In other words, don’t expect to receive the requested data in a day or two. Sometimes, it can take a few months for the cell phone service provider to respond to your subpoena.


Along with cell phone records that can show the device was in use at the time of the accident, you may also need to subpoena the data stored in the vehicle’s onboard computer. Most modern cars, trucks, and SUVs come standard with computer systems that record and store a ton of vital information.


Some of the information you can get from a vehicle's computer includes its speed at the time of the accident. You may also be able to get a clearer picture of the at-fault driver’s behavior. For example, if the vehicle was swerving in the lane or failed to stop at traffic lights.


Don’t forget about your official accident report: you can usually pick it up about ten days after the accident. Your report contains a lot of vital information that can help support your distracted driving claim.

Contact an Attorney About Your Distracted Driving Accident

If you’re involved in an accident with a distracted driver, proving your claim can be tricky. Even obtaining a subpoena is nearly impossible without assistance from an attorney.


To ensure you're prepared to negotiate with the at-fault driver's insurance company or take your case to civil court, it's essential to have a skilled accident attorney working on your distracted driving accident claim. With an experienced attorney by your side, you can confidently pursue the compensation you deserve.

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