Driver Error Laws

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 How Do Driver Errors Factor Into Personal Injury Claims?

When an automobile accident occurs, the parties to the accident are not necessarily entitled to file a lawsuit and recover monetary damages. There are two types of accidents. These include accidents without negligence and those with negligence.

An accident without negligence occurs when a malfunction is beyond the driver’s control and expectation. Non-negligent accidents result from mechanical errors or errors in the design of the vehicle. These accidents are those the driver could not have reasonably foreseen as occurring.

An example occurs when a brake is defective. If the driver could not have known the brake was broken, despite exercising reasonable care, the accident is non-negligent. There are no grounds for a lawsuit by another party. Negligent accidents give rise to personal injury claims. A driver may act negligently by failing to drive safely under the circumstances. If this negligence causes an accident and someone sustains damages, that person may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit.

What are Some Examples of Driver Error?

Driver errors are failures by drivers to observe the “rules of the road.” The “rules of the road” are outlined in each state’s motor vehicle law. These laws state what constitutes a driving offense. State motor vehicle laws typically prohibit speeding, following another vehicle too closely, and not stopping for a red light.

Common forms of driver error include failure to follow traffic signals and stop when required. In New York, for example, the motor vehicle code requires drivers to obey traffic control device (such as a stop sign) instructions. An exception to this rule exists if a driver is operating an emergency vehicle or instructed not to obey the instructions by law enforcement. If someone fails to follow this rule, and injury ensues, the driver may be subject to a lawsuit on the grounds of driver negligence.

The driver need not have deliberately intended to “jump the light.” The driver may have failed to pay attention to the light. Such failure constitutes negligence. Drivers are required by law to act reasonably and exercise due care concerning other drivers. To not act reasonably and exercise this care is negligence. Negligence is grounds for a personal injury suit.

Other common forms of driver error include:

  • Reckless driving. Reckless driving is conduct that shows a disregard for the lives and safety of others. Examples of reckless driving include:
    • Driving at a speed well beyond the speed limit (e.g., 20 or 25 miles above).
    • “Weaving” through traffic to overtake cars that are driving more slowly.
    • Passing another vehicle through unlawful means, such as using the wrong lane.
    • Excessive tailgating.
    • Driving a vehicle knowing it is in a state of disrepair. This includes driving with tires that are not sufficiently inflated or driving with brakes the operator knows are not working properly.

Not all driver error rises to the level of recklessness. Some examples of driver errors that are not reckless but nonetheless may be negligent include:

  • Engaging in distracted driving. Distracted driving occurs when a driver is not focusing their eyes on the road in front of them. Examples of distracted driving include driving while texting or using a smartphone. Distracted driving also occurs when an individual reaches for food or drink or engages in personal hygiene tasks such as combing hair.
    • Distracted driving occurs when a driver turns their body to drivers in either the passenger or rear seats to interact with others. In each instance, the driver’s attention is diverted from the task of driving.
  • Driving unsafely under special conditions. The law of negligence requires that people exercise due care under the circumstances. So, on a sunny and bright day, a driver is expected to exercise caution appropriate to such conditions. The driver need not, for example, turn on the headlights or drive at a reduced rate of speed because of hazardous weather conditions.
    • However, when a driver is driving in the rain or in the dark, the law requires the driver to act differently. These conditions require a driver to exercise extra caution. Extra caution includes having the windshield wipers on, slowing down, having the headlights on, or having a defogger on. If a driver fails to act with the extra level of caution appropriate to these special conditions, they may have acted negligently.
  • Drowsy driving. Drowsy driving occurs when a driver is fatigued. When a driver is not fully alert, the driver’s reflexes are not as sharp as when the driver is fully awake. A drowsy driver can turn into a driver who falls asleep behind the wheel. When a driver feels drowsy, it is recommended that the driver pull over or attend a nearby establishment where the driver can obtain some rest.
  • Failure to maintain lane. Drivers are expected to drive in their own lane of traffic. This task may not be especially complicated on a highway with multiple wide lanes. Sometimes construction will reduce the width of a lane. Sometimes, a lane is narrow. When a driver is confronted with a narrower lane, the driver must use extra care to maintain the lane.
  • Dangerous driving maneuvers. Examples of dangerous maneuvers include making a U-turn that is prohibited. Another dangerous maneuver is overtaking another vehicle at a safe speed. If this overtaking is done at a curve in the road, the maneuver is much more dangerous. Dangerous driving also includes making a three-point turn where prohibited.
  • Road rage. Road rage consists of driving in a way that increases the crash risk. Road rage occurs because a driver is angry, whether for personal reasons or whether the driver wants to “retaliate” against a driver they perceive as having impeded their path. Road rage causes drivers to act more aggressively. In doing so, a driver is more likely to begin to cut off other drivers, yell or curse at them, block their bath, or excessively honk at them. Road rage is an example of reckless driving.

What is the Difference Between Driver Error and Intentional Misconduct?

Driver error is caused by an individual’s acting negligently or grossly negligently under the circumstances. Sometimes auto accidents do not occur because of negligence. They occur because a driver deliberately wants to damage another vehicle or injure its occupants. If a driver intentionally causes a collision that damages people or property, the driver has committed a crime.

The crime is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the state. Consequences of intentional misconduct are significant and can include penalties, additional points to a driving record, fees, penalties, and even jail time. Intentional misconduct also subjects the driver to a civil lawsuit for damages.

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Have Legal Issues Involving Driver Error?

If you have engaged in driver error or have been a victim of driver error, you should contact a car accident lawyer in your area.

An experienced personal injury attorney near you can review the facts of your case, advise you on the law, and can represent you in traffic court or personal injury court proceedings. Your attorney can also provide you with updates in the event that there are changes in the law that might affect your legal rights and options.

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