Drivers are involved in a wide range of collisions each day in and around Syracuse. Sometimes, collisions are minor crashes that result in minimal property damage and little or no injuries. Other times, however, those involved face serious, sometimes life-threatening injuries. In general, traffic accidents are preventable because most result from driver negligence. Certain driver behaviors can lead to dangerous, sometimes deadly, accidents.
In Syracuse and around the nation, distracted driving is the most common cause of non-fatal collisions. This guide provides more information about the specifics of distracted driving, laws and penalties associated with distracted driving, and what you should do if you suffer injuries in a Syracuse car accident caused by a distracted driver.
What Constitutes Distracted Driving?
Many people assume that distracted driving refers to cell phone use while driving, but from a legal standpoint, distracted driving includes a wide range of driver actions and distractions. State and national agencies dedicate resources to studying distracted driving to help educate the public and keep the roads safer. These entities generally agree that driving has three components: (1) visual, (2) manual, and (3) cognitive. Distractions constitute any activity or event that impacts these components.
Many activities and events can interfere with a driver’s view of the road and potentially lead to an accident. Besides looking at a cell phone, one of the most common driving distractions is watching an event outside the vehicle. Explosions, fires, accidents, and other events cause some drivers to look away from the road in front of them for too long. Distracted drivers might miss a stop sign or stoplight or strike a leading car.
Activities that interfere with a driver’s physical control of the wheel lead to accidents when drivers lose control of their vehicles. When people think of distracted driving, they typically focus on manual distractions. Eating snacks and drinking require drivers to take at least one hand off the wheel, which can prove dangerous in some situations. Similarly, personal grooming in the vehicle, including brushing or combing hair and applying makeup while driving, also distract drivers.
Even seemingly safe actions, such as adjusting the radio, seat, heat, A/C, and other vehicle features, serve as manual driving distractions. Finally, tending to other passengers also distracts drivers. This is common with parents who need to reach for something or give something to children in the backseat. Any time that drivers have one or both of their hands off the wheel, even for a split second, they risk causing a distracted driving accident.
Drivers need to keep their minds on the road, too. Cognitive distractions include anything that forces a driver to think about something other than driving. Daydreaming is a common distraction, especially for those driving without other occupants in the vehicle. Loud music and arguing with passengers can distract drivers and cause them to lose focus on the road.
We covered three separate types of driving distractions above. However, most driving distractions impact drivers in at least two ways. For example, reaching for something on the floor or in the back seat is typically both a manual and a visual distraction. Texting and driving gets a lot of attention because it’s a triple threat. Drivers who text are busy with their eyes, hands, and minds.
Distracted Driving Violations in Syracuse
Although distracted driving includes a wide range of activities, drivers can only receive traffic citations for cell phone use. For example, if you are driving on South Salina St. in downtown Syracuse and another driver hits your vehicle because he was adjusting the radio, he might not receive a traffic citation. In serious situations, police might issue a reckless driving ticket, but reckless driving includes more than just distracted driving.
If you’ve suffered injuries in an accident, your attorney will need to prove that the other driver acted negligently. This is often easier when the driver receives one or more traffic citations at the accident but can also prove difficult to prove in some situations. Even when police do not issue a ticket, accident victims still have an opportunity to prove negligence by requesting the driver’s cell phone records.
New York Cell Phone Use Laws
Drivers in Syracuse and throughout New York cannot use cell phones or other portable electronic devices while driving. In fact, New York was the first state to ban cell phone use while driving.
These activities are illegal under the law:
- Talking on a cell phone
- Composing, sending, reading, browsing, or engaging with any electronic data, including texts, emails, and the internet
- Viewing, taking, or sending photos or videos
- Playing games
Drivers who break the law face up to a $450 fine, depending on whether it’s their first, second, or third offense. Drivers under the age of 18 face an automatic license suspension after the first offense. Truck drivers and other professional drivers who hold commercial drivers’ licenses (CDLs) face stiffer penalties because their negligent actions may constitute violations of federal law.
Exceptions to Distracted Driving Violations
The law does provide for some exceptions when it comes to cell phone use. You might have fallen victim to a driver who had a legitimate reason to use a cell phone while driving.
Examples of situations that often qualify for an exception under the law include:
- Police vehicles, fire trucks, ambulances, and other on-duty emergency vehicles
- Drivers reporting an emergency to 911 or reporting criminal activity
- Drivers calling a doctor or hospital
Who Is at Risk for Injuries From a Syracuse Distracted Driving Accident?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately eight people each day die across the United States from distracted driving accidents. Each year, approximately 400,000 individuals suffer injuries from distracted driving. You might assume that only drivers and occupants face the risk of suffering injuries in a distracted driving accident. However, the CDC estimates that one in five people who suffer distracted driving accident injuries are not in a vehicle.
Examples of Syracuse residents who could suffer injuries from a distracted driver include:
- Pedestrians, especially those downtown or those near the Syracuse University campus
- Bicycle riders, especially in the warm summer months
- Motorcyclists and scooter riders
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has extensively studied distracted driving. One particular area includes researching the impact of cell phone use laws. These laws intend to reduce the risk for injuries from distracted driving accidents. The NHTSA’s initial research focused on four cities, and Syracuse was one of them.
The project specifically focuses on whether high-visibility enforcement reduces cell phone use while driving. The NHTSA project increased police enforcement of distracted driving laws and used the media to increase public awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. They collected data from 2010 to 2013 and found enforcement and education efforts reduced observed driver cell phone use from 3.7 percent to 2.5 percent in Syracuse, effectively reducing the risk of distracted driving accidents.
Steps to Take After a Syracuse Distracted Driving Accident
After suffering injuries in a distracted driving accident, you have the legal right to bring a lawsuit against the driver who caused the accident after you exhaust insurance options related to New York’s mandatory no-fault insurance. You must take careful steps in the minutes, days, and weeks after your accident to preserve the value of your claim and maximize your chances of recovering compensation.
It’s in your best interest to follow as many of these tips as possible after suffering injuries in a distracted driving accident in Syracuse:
Seek Immediate Medical Attention
When serious accidents occur, emergency response teams typically come to the accident scene and transport injured people to St. Joseph’s Hospital or another facility in or near Syracuse. However, some refuse medical attention. After a less severe accident, some individuals choose to skip seeing a doctor entirely. They may only feel a little sore and/or have some minor bumps and bruises. Unfortunately, soreness and bruising can indicate serious internal injuries, such as traumatic brain injuries (TBI), internal bleeding, and organ damage. Some injuries can prove life-threatening if left untreated.
Additionally, your medical record serves as evidence for your injury claim. Getting checked out by a physician not only benefits your health but also puts any injuries that you have suffered on your permanent record. This makes it difficult for an insurance company, insurance adjuster, or defense legal team to argue that your injuries did not occur how or when you claim. You should also follow your doctor’s orders when it comes to treatment and healing for your injuries, so the defense cannot argue that you made your injuries worse.
Gather Contact Information
After a car accident, Syracuse police typically arrive and take down relevant information for their formal police report. You can usually get a copy of the report 10 days or so later, and you should review the report thoroughly. Police officers sometimes make mistakes or miss things in their reports. If you physically can, gather contact information from other involved individuals and/or eyewitnesses after your accident, you should do so.
Get the names, addresses, and phone numbers of other drivers, occupants, and witnesses to the accident.
Ask for insurance information and take note of:
- Distracted driving behaviors that may have caused the accident
- Traffic conditions
- Weather conditions
- Road conditions
- Make/Model of the other vehicle(s) involved in the accident
You can check this information against what is listed in the official police report. It also provides your attorney with the information they need to thoroughly investigate the accident.
Take Pictures or Videos
If your cell phone is still intact, and you can move after a car accident, take as many photos as possible at the scene of the accident. You should get pictures of license plates, property damage, and any injuries. Take pictures close up, and get some of the entire accident scene. Police do take photos, but it’s best to ensure that you get some of your own as well. Photographic and video evidence of damage makes it difficult for the other side to disrupt the narrative about how your injuries occurred.
Keep off Social Media
Insurance adjusters and investigators will also thoroughly investigate the accident and your injuries. You can expect them to turn over every rock to find something to use to devalue your claim. They like to look at social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for posts and images that suggest an accident victim isn’t as hurt as claimed.
Something as seemingly innocent as family vacation photos or a child’s college graduation could become a weapon against you. Don’t give those on the other side ammunition for their questionable tactics. You do not have to deactivate your accounts. Instead, refrain from posting on all social media accounts until your case is fully resolved.
Contact a Lawyer
Experienced car accident attorneys know how to handle and negotiate with tricky insurance companies, giving their clients the best chances of receiving maximum compensation for their injuries. Attorneys also know how to fight for you when the other side tries to shift blame your way.
After a distracted driving accident, a skilled lawyer can:
- Investigate the accident, especially important if you could not gather evidence at the scene.
- Gather relevant evidence and documents to prove that the at-fault driver’s negligence caused the accident.
- Consult with a network of specialists and experts to value your claim and interpret evidence.
- Handle negotiations, especially when insurance companies make insultingly low settlement offers.
- Take your case to court and fight for you if settlement is not an option.
If you have sustained injuries because of a distracted driver, you and your family should not have to cope with the economic burden that comes with your injuries. Medical bills continue to pile up, and if your injuries are severe, you cannot work. Instead, let a lawyer advocate for you each step of the way to increase your chances of recovering maximum compensation. Use your time to concentrate on healing and recovering to the highest level your body will allow while your attorney handles the details of your Syracuse auto accident claim.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.