Drunk Drivers and Distracted Drivers Top Causes of Car Accidents

Drunk Driving Accidents

People across the nation were simultaneously captivated and horrified by the story of Diane Schuler, who was involved in an accident killing eight on the Taconic State Parkway in New York. It was later revealed that Schuler had a blood alcohol content level of .19 percent and was under the influence of marijuana at the time she drove a minivan carrying her two children and three nieces the wrong way on the interstate on-ramp. The accident killed Schuler, her daughter and nieces, and the three occupants of the SUV she hit while driving into oncoming traffic. Her young son was the only survivor of the shocking crash.

For all of its tragedy and ugliness, the Schuler story is not unique. In 2008, there were 5.8 million car accidents in the United States, resulting in 2.35 million injuries and more than 37,000 deaths. Nearly one-third of the deaths attributed to car accidents were the result of a drunk driver.

California's numbers reflect the national averages as well. In 2008, there were 3,434 fatalities caused by car accidents in the state. The three counties with the highest car accident fatality rates were Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County and San Diego County. In fact, according to statistics released by Allied Insurance, drivers in Los Angeles have a 46.6 percent increased chance of being involved in a car accident than the national average, while those in San Diego have a 13 percent increased chance.

Over 1,000 of the deaths on California roadways, or about 30 percent, were attributed to drunk drivers. While commentators like to lament on the fact that the state's total number of alcohol-related deaths decreased by 103 from 2007 to 2008, the statistical decrease is of little value to those who lost a loved one to a drunk driver.

For example, consider the August death of a 9-year-old who was the passenger in a car driven by a 23-year-old drunk driver, who hit one car before colliding with others on I-5. Or the Carlsbad highway patrolman who was killed after being struck by a group of kids coming back from a night of partying in Tijuana. For these people and their families, even one death caused by a drunk driver is too many.

The Dangers of Cell Phones and Texting

Drunk drivers are not the only danger to motorists on the nation's roadways. Drivers distracted by cell phones, GPS navigation systems, radios and passengers in their cars also pose a risk. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 80 percent of all accidents are caused by driver inattention.

The most commonly blamed driver distractions are cell phones and PDAs used for talking or texting while driving. A study published by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society estimated that using cell phones while driving causes 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries each year.

But many believe the number of injuries and deaths associated with cell phone use and texting are much higher than reported. The New York Times ran a story this summer detailing how the federal government had suppressed important information concerning the dangers of talking on cell phones while operating motor vehicles. Additionally, many states do not list cell phones as an official cause of a car accident, making it difficult to accurately determine the true number of accidents caused by the devices.

The issue has garnered so much attention that the U.S. Department of Transportation has called a summit this September to discuss the dangers of cell phone use and texting and measures for reducing the number of accidents they cause. The federal agency is considering pulling federal funding from states that do not take action against driver cell phone use and texting.

Many states, including California, have already passed laws that prevent drivers from talking on their cell phones unless they use hands-free devices. But a recent study revealed that hands-free devices do little to nothing to prevent driver distraction. The act of talking on a phone is as much a problem as dialing or receiving calls.

States also have begun passing laws that ban texting while driving. Currently, about half of the states either ban all or some drivers from texting. California passed a ban on texting for all drivers in 2009 and made the violation a primary offense, meaning that a police officer has the power to pull over any driver who is seen texting or using their cell phone without a hands-free device. However, the ability of police officers to enforce these types of bans is questionable, especially in heavily populated areas like Southern California.

Civil Remedies for Car Accident Victims

Those who have been injured or lost a loved one in a car accident, whether caused by a drunk driver, distracted driver or other cause, have remedies available to them under the law. Even if the driver has been charged with a crime (like drunk driving) and may be sent to jail for breaking the law, the injured person or the injured person's family still has the right to bring a civil action against the driver.

The actual amount of damages an injured person may be entitled to will depend on the circumstances surrounding his or her accident and other specific factors. For more information on available civil remedies under California law, contact an experienced personal injury attorney