Many workers in North Carolina and Virginia use their vehicles to earn a living. Drivers use cars for sales, to meet clients away from the office, to run work errands, and for other reasons. Drivers use trucks to transport products across the country, to deliver food and products throughout North Carolina and Virginia, for construction, and for a host of other reasons.
Generally, drivers who are involved in an accident while working have the right to file a workers’ compensation claim if the accident causes any injuries or the death of a family member. The employee driver (or passenger) does not need to show that another driver who caused the accident was speeding, violated any traffic law, or drove while distracted. In most cases, the driver can still file a claim even if he/she was negligent. That being said, if such individual was negligent, the injured worker would, in addition to his or her potential workers compensation claim, also have a separate claim for what is known as a “third party case,” (liability or injury case) against the driver or drivers whose negligence caused the motor vehicle accident. Our firm handles these types as cases as well.
These days, particularly with the widespread use of smartphones, many car and truck accidents are caused by distracted drivers. Our workers’ compensation lawyer understands the unique challenges involved in distracted driving cases such as whether an employee can file a claim if he/she drove while texting or while otherwise distracted. While, as discussed above, you generally don’t need to show another driver was distracted (just that an accident happened), in order to prove a workers compensation claim, we do recommend that employers and employees understand the dangers of distracted driving.
What conduct qualifies as distracted driving
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC), distracted driving involves taking your eyes off the road, hands off the steering wheel, and minds off the task of driving safely and being able to respond to emergencies. Many workers drive while distracted because they’re on the road most of the day. Using a smartphone, listening to an entertainment system, eating, or drinking may help prevent the driver from being bored – but there are usually safer strategies such as taking longer breaks and using newer technology that keeps the driver’s focus on his/her driving.
Most states including North Carolina and Virginia now ban texting while driving. Many state laws target younger drivers who often fail to appreciate the dangers of distracted driving. Virginia bans all drivers from using hand-held devices. North Carolina bans drivers under 18 from using phones while driving.
The CDC states that drivers of commercial trucks do not have permission to send or read texts while driving or use a handheld device while driving.
What are the different types of driver distraction?
Driver distraction includes the following:
- Visual distraction. This type of distraction includes any activity that takes the driver’s eyes off the road. Examples include reading text messages, looking at directions, and “rubbernecking” (turning one’s neck to view a crash site).
- Manual distraction. Drivers should have both hands on the steering wheel. Examples of manual distraction include using a handheld device, reaching for items inside the car or truck, eating or drinking, adjusting a radio, and applying makeup.
- Cognitive distraction. This type of distraction includes talking on a phone, thinking about anything other than your driving, or arguing with a passenger.
Texting while driving is especially dangerous, according to the US CDC, because it involves all three types of distractions. The CDC states that research shows that hands-free phones aren’t the answer – that they’re just as dangerous as handheld phones. Simply put, the less you’re focused on your driving, the more likely you are to be involved in a vehicle accident. “A worker who is driving a motor vehicle while negotiating a complex or contentious business deal over the phone at the same time is giving neither task the attention it deserves. We’ve written before how Google Class hand-free computers are not safer than handheld devices.
The CDC cites research that indicates drivers who use cell phones are “failing to see up to 50% of the information in their driving environment.” These failures can include missing crucial information such as a stop sign, a pedestrian, or a stopped vehicle.
In 2020, 13% of all motor vehicle traffic crashes in the United States involved distraction resulting in more than 3,100 deaths – including 587 deaths involving non-passengers (bicycle riders and pedestrians). In the same year, at any given time, 2.8% of all drivers were visibly using a handheld device.
Additional research shows “that distraction is present during 52% of normal driving. Common distractions are: interacting with an adult or teen passenger (15%), using a cell phone (6%), and using systems such as climate control and radio (4%).6
What steps can be taken to prevent distracted driving at work?
Employers and workers need to work together to help reduce the dangers of distracted driving. The CDC recommends that employers:
- Ban all phone use while driving a company vehicle and ban the use of company-issued phones while driving a personal vehicle
- Mandate that workers need to pull off the road to a safe location – to make or receive calls, look up directions, or text
- Consider phone-blocking technology
- “Consider using technology that detects and warns drivers of distracted driving behaviors (such as cameras that detect when eye gaze is not on the road).”
- Communicate with workers:
- “That driving is their primary job when they are behind the wheel
- How distracted driving puts them at risk of a crash
- What they need to do to comply with your company’s policies
- What action you will take if they do not follow these policies”
- Have the workers sign an acknowledgment that they understand the company distracted driving policies
Watch out for the Defense of a Safety Rule Violation.
If the injured worker is employed by a company that engages in hauling and delivery work, besides the statutes and rules of the road, there are likely numerous written safety rules maintained by the company that require the use of proper equipment such as seat belts as well as rules against using your cell phone while driving, etc.
In Virginia, if it is found by the Commission that you willfully violated a known written or even oral safety rule that was previously communicated to you, and this violation caused your injury, your claim would be dismissed. In North Carolina, any safety rule violation, other than intoxication that caused your injuries, would not completely bar your claim, but reduce your weekly checks by 10%.
A rule against looking at your cell phone while operating a vehicle would be a good example of a safety rule violation in this context. If your company had an enforced, written safety rule that you were aware of that clearly stated that you are not to utilize your cell phone in any way while driving, other than perhaps as a navigational assist, if it were found that you willfully failed to adhere to that rule, and your distraction while using your cell phone caused your injuries, your claim could be dismissed in Virginia, or reduced by 10% if pending in North Carolina.
Our North Carolina and Virginia lawyer understands the dangers of distracted driving and what steps employers should take to prevent distracted driving accidents. At Joe Miller Law Ltd., our North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer has been fighting for workers’ compensation victims for more than 30 years. We’ve helped thousands of employees obtain just recoveries. If you were injured while driving, for any reason, call attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295 or use my online contact form to schedule a free consultation.
Besides that , our law firm does have a way for you to provide your details of your accident and injuries if you simply want to do that electronically from the comfort and safety of your home at any time of day or night. To utilize this service, simply click here: New Electronic Case Review.
We’ll get back to you, typically within 24 hours to provide our response as to whether your situation is one where we can provide you with legal representation. If we require more information, we’ll contact you and ask for that information. If we ultimately determine that we cannot represent or assist you, we will not leave you high and dry. We’ll do our best to provide you with other resources to assist you.