According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), distracted driving causes about one out of five traffic accidents across the state every year. In 2017, more than 5,500 crashes in Travis County alone resulted from distracted driving. That included 19 fatalities and more than 1,500 injuries.
Distracted driving has been a problem since the invention of the automobile, but changes in technology have contributed to a growing epidemic of driver distraction across Texas and the nation. Sometimes drivers choose to break the law and other times they are driving carelessly. In both situations, distracted drivers put others who share the road at risk of injury and death.
If you have suffered injuries in a car accident with a distracted driver, or you have lost a loved one to a distracted driving accident, you need an experienced Austin car accident attorney on your side to help you recover the compensation you deserve. Contact the team at The Law Offices of George Salinas at (512) 851-1004 for a free consultation to discuss the details of your case and determine the best course of action for your situation.
What Is Distracted Driving?
Accidents, injuries, and deaths caused by distracted driving have prompted government agencies at all levels to focus on the ways to tackle the problem. TxDOT’s anti-distracted driving campaign, Talk, Text, Crash broadly defines distracted driving as any activity that takes a driver’s attention away from the road. Cell phones come to mind when most people think of distracted driving, but many other behaviors might lead to a distraction that causes an accident, including:
- Eating or drinking while driving
- Reaching for something on the floor or seat
- Watching another accident on the side of the road, or another event outside of the vehicle
- Helping passengers in the back seat
- Chatting with passengers
- Adjusting the radio, the GPS, and other vehicle controls
- Personal grooming such as shaving, combing hair, putting on make-up
Texas Distracted Driving Laws
Texas, like many other states, has enacted laws curb distracted driving related to mobile device usage. Some Texas cities, including Austin, have followed suit. As of early 2019, state and local ordinances that affect motorists in Austin include:
- Texas Texting Ban. As of 2017, it is illegal for Texas drivers to read, write, or send a text when they are driving. Those who break the law face a misdemeanor charge and fines starting at $25 that increase for repeat offenders. If texting and driving leads to injury or death to others, the driver faces up to $4,000 in fines and up to one year in jail.
- School Zone Ban. Texas law prohibits drivers from using cell phones in any capacity in a school zone.
- New Driver Laws. Drivers with learner’s permits cannot use handheld cell phones for their first six months of driving. Also, Texas law bans those under age 18 from using all wireless communications devices.
- Hands-free Austin. Texas state law does not prohibit talking on a cell phone while holding the device; however, the City of Austin prohibits the use of all hand-held devices while operating a motor vehicle. Using a cell phone on a bicycle is also illegal in Austin. Those who violate Austin’s hands-free ordinance fact up to a $500 fine.
Seeking Damages After an Austin Distracted Driving Accident
Texas is a pure tort liability state for auto accident victims, which means that anyone injured in a car accident can seek compensation from the party at fault. Typically, an accident victim’s first step is to seek compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Liability coverage typically pays for damages up to the policyholder’s limit.
When a distracted driver causes a serious or catastrophic injury, an insurance policy may not cover all of the economic and non-economic costs of an accident. When policy limits are exceeded or the insurance company denies its customer’s liability, taking legal action can be the best route to recovering additional damages. If a victim sues the at-fault driver in Texas court, they might be able to recover:
- Medical expenses including ambulance ride, emergency room visit, hospital stay, surgery, radiology, and medication.
- Future medical costs when an injury requires extensive recovery time or results in a permanent disability that requires lifelong care.
- Rehabilitation costs such as physical therapist visits and assistive devices like crutches, prosthetic limbs, and wheelchairs.
- Lost wages for time away from work due to injury and/or hospitalization
- Lost earning capacity for future wages when a severe or catastrophic injury prevents a victim from returning to their job
- Pain and suffering from the injury
- Loss of consortium with a spouse
- Scarring and disfigurement when catastrophic injuries result in amputation or scars.
- Punitive damages, meant to punish the defendant and deter future wrongful conduct, can be awarded in personal injury cases in Texas in cases involving intentional harm or gross negligence. In distracted driving cases resulting in severe injury or death, the court might consider some distracting behaviors as gross negligence and award punitive damages.
Get the Legal Help You Need After an Austin Distracted Driving Accident
If you have been injured in an Austin car accident because of a distracted driver, or if you have lost a loved one to a distracted driving accident, you have limited time to take legal action. Texas has a two-year statute of limitations to file a personal injury suit. This window goes by fast, especially when victims are dealing with the aftermath of a serious injury that includes the physical pain of recovery and potential financial burden of unpaid medical bills.
An experienced personal injury lawyer gives accident victims and surviving family members the best chance of recovering the compensation they deserve after a distracted driving accident. Contact The Law Offices of George Salinas in Austin (512) 851-1004 for a free consultation to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team. We often handle personal injury cases on a contingent fee basis, only collecting attorney fees from any compensation we secure for our clients through a settlement or verdict in their favor.