A predawn two-car crash in Fairfax County, VA, left one driver dead and the other facing unspecified charges. As Virginia wrongful death attorneys, my colleagues and I learn of such tragedies almost daily and we wonder whether distraction or falling asleep at the wheel played a role in causing the deadly wreck.
According to multiple news reports, a 29-year-old woman from Manassas drove into the back of another car just east of Exit 57 to Route 50 from I-66. The collision, which was reported shortly before 4 am on April 19, 2018, killed the 26-year Falls Church woman in the lead vehicle. Virginia State troopers emphasized that the woman who lost her life was not wearing a seat belt.
My wrongful death law firm colleagues and I urge all driver to buckle up, but we also know that failing to do so does not prevent filing insurance claims or pursuing civil lawsuits. State laws on seat belt use specify that driving without using a seat belt cannot be cited as contributory negligence. This matters because in Virginia, evidence of contributory negligence -- that is, being partly responsible for one’s own injuries or death -- usually blocks any attempt to seek or collect compensation and damages from the person who is more at fault.
Rear-end collisions on the interstate suggest distraction because taking one’s eyes and mind off the road ahead for even a few seconds while going 55 mph or faster gives a driver too little time to react appropriately when traffic slows or pavement conditions change. The deadly crash on I-66 in Fairfax County also suggests drowsy driving because it happened between midnight and 6 am, when falling asleep behind the wheel is most likely.
A 2018 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey on the risk s of distracted driving is worth quoting at length:
The annual Traffic Safety Culture Index shows that 88 percent of motorists believe distracted driving is on the rise, overtaking other risky behaviors like aggressive driving (68 percent); drivers using drugs (55 percent) and drunk driving (43 percent).
The number of drivers who report talking on a cellphone regularly or fairly often when behind the wheel jumped 46 percent since 2013. Nearly half (49 percent) admit to juggling handheld devices while in the vehicle is in motion. Roughly 35 percent have sent a text or email. A somewhat strange twist to these statistics is the number of drivers (58 percent) who agree that talking on a cellphone while driving is a very serious threat to their personal safety. A whopping 78 percent believe behind-the-wheel texting is a significant danger.
This summary was released just two months after the AAA Foundation reported that after analyzing in-vehicle video from more than 700 crashes, “researchers determined that 9.5 percent of all crashes and 10.8 percent of crashes resulting in significant property damage involved drowsiness.”
Put nodding off together with using a phone or GPS device, and the stage is set for a tragic accident.