Three children and two adults went to hospitals after a car and pickup truck collided head-on in Wake County, North Carolina (NC), on the evening of July 17, 2017. State Highway Patrol investigators determined that the woman driving the car caused the wreck near the intersection of Old Stage Road and NC 42 in the community of Willow Springs after she leaned over to retrieve her dropped cell phone.
When troopers responded to the crash scene at 6:15 pm, they found a 15-year-old boy in the pickup and a 7-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy in the car suffering from serious injuries. Both drivers also required medical treatment.
The mother of the two children in the car faces preliminary charges of crossing a double yellow line and failing to properly secure one of the young passengers. It is unclear whether she will also be charged with distracted driving or inflicting injuries.
Section 20.146(d)(1) of the North Carolina Code places a legal obligation on drivers to stay within their own lane when any risk for a collision exists. Specifically, the statute states, “Whenever any street has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic … a vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.”
The state also prohibits using a cell phone in a moving vehicle and uses its official Drivers Handbook to remind people that
- Cell phones can be a lifesaver in an emergency; however, they also can be distracting. Below are North Carolina laws and reminders to help you avoid letting the cell phone become a deadly distraction:
- It is unlawful to use a cell phone for email or text messages while operating a vehicle on a public street or highway or public vehicular area;
- Drivers less than 18 years of age are not permitted to use a cell phone or any additional technology associated with a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle on a public street or highway or public vehicular area while the vehicle is in motion. Exceptions: calling 911 in an emergency;
- No person shall operate a school bus on a public street or highway or public vehicular area while using a cell phone or any other technology associated with a mobile device;
- Use your cell phone only if it is absolutely necessary and for the sole purpose of communicating regarding emergency situations or contacting parent, legal guardian or spouse;
- If you must use your phone, do so at a safe time and place;
- Ask a passenger in the car to place the call for you and, if possible, speak in your place;
- Do not feel like you must answer the phone when it rings. Let someone leave a message and you can return the call when you are stopped at a safe location;
- Secure your phone in the car so that it does not become a projectile in a crash.
The long list of prohibitions on using a phone while driving exists precisely because wrecks like this one in Wake County happen when drivers allow themselves to become distracted by conversations and devices. Paying attention to a text message, phone call or dropped device takes one’s eyes and mind off the road, and, often, one’s hands off the steering wheel. The longer a distraction persists, the more impossible it becomes to maintain control and stay right of center.
My Carolina personal injury law firm colleagues and I hope everyone hurt in the head-on collision on Old Stage Road makes a full and rapid recovery. We also urge all drivers to turn off their phones when they get into the car.