When drivers are paying attention to cell phones, smartwatches, and other electronic devices while they are operating a motor vehicle, they can very easily divert their attention away from the road and cause a serious accident. Moreover, many states have enacted distracted driving laws that make cellular phone use without a hands-free device (and sometimes even smartwatch use) illegal while operating a motor vehicle. Additionally, in some states, a driver can be pulled over for simply having an electronic device in his or her hand or for texting on a cell phone while stopped at an intersection.
Police officers are trained to recognize the telltale signs of distracted driving and will not hesitate to pull distracted drivers over. Drivers who violate state laws pertaining to smartwatch use may incur a civil infraction and may have to pay a fine or other penalty. Moreover, when a distracted driver causes an accident—either by violating a state’s hands-free law or by using a smartwatch—the negligent driver can be liable for the accident and may have to pay (i.e. through his or her insurance) the damages that the accident victim sustained.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a motor vehicle accident that was caused by a distracted driver, you may be eligible to file a personal injury claim against that driver for damages. An experienced distracted driving lawyer in your state can investigate the cause of your accident and determine whether distracted driving likely played a part. If it did, your lawyer can file a claim or lawsuit against the distracted driver on your behalf, and pursue compensation for the injuries which you suffered in the accident.
What Is a Smartwatch?
A smartwatch is a fairly new form of technology that acts as both a timekeeping device as well as a computing device. Smartwatches can be linked to a person’s cellular device through Bluetooth. They are used not only to tell time like a traditional watch, but they are also equipped with many of the same basic functions of a cellular phone. Thus, they become an extension of the user’s phone.
Most smartwatch devices can be used to do any of the following:
- Answer incoming phone calls
- Make outgoing phone calls
- Read and send both text messages and emails
- Listen to music
- Get the current weather report
- Dictate a note or a message
- Verbally ask a question to a digital assistant
Many smartwatches also contain apps that enable a user to track his or her heart rate, steps, mileage, or calories at a given time—or to provide the user with driving or walking directions from one destination to another. Smartwatches can also be used to alert users to various notifications. Smartwatches currently on the market today are designed and manufactured by several different companies, including Samsung, Nike, Sony, and Apple.
Whenever a driver wears a smartwatch, he or she may feel tempted to use it while driving or while stopped at an intersection. Even in jurisdictions where smartwatch use while driving is not technically illegal, this activity can still divert a driver’s attention away from the road, potentially causing a collision with another motor vehicle—or even a collision with a pedestrian or a stationary object near the road.
What Is so Distracting About a Smartwatch Anyway?
When individuals get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, they seldom remember to take off their smartwatches. These watches can prove to be very distracting to drivers—sometimes more distracting than even an actual cell phone would be. Drivers who constantly check their smartwatches while they are operating a motor vehicle need more reaction time to respond to a change in traffic or some other roadway emergency that requires their immediate attention.
Some of the most common distractions and risks that come with wearing and using a smartwatch while operating a motor vehicle include the following:
- Constantly looking at the watch while driving – A person who constantly looks at his or her smartwatch while driving faces the same level of distraction as one who constantly looks at a cell phone or other device while driving. Smartwatches, however, are arguably even more distracting than cellular phones, since a driver has to either look down or completely take his or her hand off the steering wheel, to check the watch while driving. Moreover, if the driver is wearing a long-sleeved shirt at the time he or she is checking the smartwatch, the driver may have to take one hand off the steering wheel to pull back the sleeve and look at the watch. Finally, a smartwatch user who is driving may have to use his or her hand to clear notifications or push buttons on the watch, for the watch to perform a function. All of this activity can take a driver’s mind off the road—not to mention his or her hands off the steering wheel—to check the watch.
- Small screens on smartphones – For a smartphone to fit on a user’s wrist comfortably, it has to be equipped with a much smaller screen than a traditional cell phone. Because of this much smaller screen, the user may have to use his or her hands to scroll through a text message—all while trying to operate a motor vehicle on the road. Moreover, to read the extremely small print on the screen, the driver may have to take his or her eyes completely off the road to read and understand the message, further increasing the likelihood of the driver causing an accident.
- Smartphone notifications – Just like traditional cellular devices such as smartphones, many smartwatches are equipped with notifications. Some of these notifications are only related to updates. However, if the alert that the watch uses when an update is ready is the same alert that your cellular phone uses to notify you of an incoming phone call or text message, drivers will not know why their watch is alerting them, and may respond to the watch as if there is an incoming text message or call coming through—diverting their attention away from the road in the process of responding to the notification.
What Happens When a Driver Using A Smartwatch Becomes Distracted?
When a driver who is using a smartwatch or other electronic device while operating a motor vehicle becomes distracted, the driver can take his or her eyes off the road—even if only for a moment—and set a motor vehicle collision in motion.
Some of the most common types of accidents that occur as a result of distracted driving include the following:
- Rear-end accidents – A distracted motor vehicle driver may collide with the rear of another vehicle, often causing the occupants of the front vehicle to suffer whiplash-type injuries.
- Head-on collisions – These often occur when a driver crosses the centerline of the road and collides with the front of an oncoming vehicle.
- Parking lot and parking garage accidents – If a motor vehicle operator is looking at a smartwatch (instead of into his or her rearview or side view mirror) while backing out of a parking space, he or she may collide with another motor vehicle or a pedestrian.
- Intersection accidents – A distracted driver who is not paying attention to the road could accidentally run a stop sign or red traffic light, leading to a collision with another vehicle in a broadside accident.
- Collisions with stationary objects – These instances happen when a driver is looking down at his or her smartwatch or other electronic device while driving, and collide with a stationary object located on the side or the middle of the road (such as a concrete barrier or median strip).
Steps to Take After a Distracted Driver Causes an Accident
Distracted drivers can cause serious motor vehicle accidents that lead to injuries for everyone involved, including drivers and passengers. The first thing you should do after being involved in an accident where you suspect the driver was distracted is to call police to the scene. You also want to make sure that the responding police officer prepares a report stating the cause of the accident (i.e. if it was caused by distracted driving) and who specifically was at fault for the accident. The police report will also indicate whether the at-fault driver was given a citation (i.e. for negligent or distracted driving).
In addition to speaking with the police officer and insisting upon a report, you will want to gather insurance and personal contact information from all other drivers who were involved in the collision. If any eyewitnesses to the accident remain at the scene, you should obtain their names and contact information as well. Their testimony may become important if they observed the at-fault driver looking at a smartwatch or cell phone just before the accident.
Finally, if you believe you might have been injured in the accident, you should seek same-day medical treatment at your local urgent care center or hospital emergency room. A doctor can run the necessary tests, determine if you suffered an injury in the accident, and make recommendations for follow-up medical treatment, such as consulting with your primary care doctor if you continue to experience problems.
Filing a Claim for Personal Injuries Against a Distracted Driver
Motor vehicle operators owe a duty of care to all other drivers on the road. That duty is to operate their vehicles in a careful, safe, and reasonable manner at all times, and to abide by all motor vehicle traffic and safety regulations and laws. Motor vehicle operators who do not follow the law can be deemed responsible for any traffic accidents that they cause.
If using a smartwatch while driving is against the law in the state where your accident occurred, then that fact alone may be sufficient to establish that the at-fault driver violated the prevailing standard of care.
In addition to demonstrating that a distracted driver violated a traffic law or some other legal standard, an injured accident victim must show that this violation caused the accident that led to the accident victim’s injuries. Finally, an accident victim must show that his or her injuries resulted from the accident that the distracted motor vehicle driver caused.
An experienced distracted driving accident lawyer can assist you with proving fault on the part of the distracted driver by introducing certain pieces of evidence, such as the police report, which establishes that the driver was operating his or her vehicle while distracted (or that the driver was negligent in some other way). A knowledgeable lawyer can also assist you with proving that you are entitled to damages by introducing medical documentation, such as records, bills, and imaging studies, and other evidence that establishes that you were injured in the accident and that your injuries are causally related to it.
Potential damages available to victims of distracted driving accidents
Victims of distracted driving accidents may be eligible to recover monetary compensation from the distracted driver through his or her insurance company. The amount and type of damages available to accident victims depend upon the seriousness of the injuries that he or she suffered, along with the extent and cost of the medical treatment that the accident victim received following the accident.
Potential damages that might be available to victims of distracted driving accidents include:
- Payment of related medical bills
- Payment of related out-of-pocket costs
- Compensation for lost earnings or loss of earning capacity due to injuries suffered in the accident
- Payment of pain and suffering damages
- Compensation for mental anguish and emotional distress
- Compensation for a permanent injury or disability
- Compensation for loss of family support or spousal companionship
A knowledgeable distracted driving attorney will do everything possible to help you maximize the damages to which you are entitled following your distracted driving motor vehicle accident.
Contact a distracted driving attorney to help you file a claim against an at-fault driver, settle your case, or litigate your case through the court system, to maximize your compensation.
Brauns Law, P.C.
3175 Satellite Boulevard, Bldg 600
Duluth, GA 30096