The Real Costs of Distracted Driving

October 21 2019

Distracted driving, as a contributing cause of serious accidents, is not new but the causes of distraction have increased as our society adopts new and more pervasive technology.

The RCMP considers distracted driving a form of impaired driving, because “a driver’s judgement is compromised when they are not fully focused on the road.” In Alberta alone, there were 23,546 distracted driving convictions in 2018. In an effort to reduce distracted driving incidents, as of January 1, 2016, penalties for distracted driving in Alberta began to include three demerit points in addition to a $287 fine.

Research released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety indicates that drivers using mobile devices, whether hands-free or hand-held, are more than four times as likely to be involved in a crash. In fact, the RCMP states 4 million motor vehicle crashes in North America each year are due, in part, to driver distraction. 

Distracted Driving Back in the Day

In a Manitoba case fifty years ago, a 15-year-old boy stole a car and picked up his 14-year-old school friend for a joy ride. The 15-year-old had only driven a car once before, which his school friend had stolen from his father, and only for a few minutes, and so was a completely inexperienced driver. As they drove at 70 m.p.h. on a curve in the highway just past the local penitentiary, his friend exclaimed at the sight of car lights approaching from behind that the police were in pursuit. The young driver craned his neck around to look at the following car and lost control of the vehicle, careening off the highway and ending up in a ditch. His school friend suffered severe injuries, including brain damage, and sued the driver for damages. The trial judge found the 15-year-old at fault for causing the accident due to his inexperience and excessive speed, which was only set aside by the appeal court because the school friend had willingly participated in the crime of stealing the car.

The New Breed of Distracted Driving

In a recent Alabama case, a teenage girl had traveled to the state to party with her girlfriends. She told the judge she was not drinking alcohol the day of the accident as she was the designated driver. As they drove home that night, one of the girls was passed out drunk in the back seat. The others were listening to music being played on the driver’s cell phone. The front seat passenger asked the driver for her cell phone password so that she could unlock the phone and change the music. The driver turned her head to tell her passenger the password, and when she turned her head back she saw the plaintiff’s car directly ahead – it was too late to avoid a collision. She slammed into the car driven by the plaintiff, injuring her. Both cars were a write-off. The young driver was held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

The Ubiquity of Cell Phones

In this 50 year span not much has changed – car accidents are still being caused by distracted drivers – but what has changed is an increase in the number of distracted driving cases that appear to correspond to the near universal adoption of cell phone use.

The Real Cost of Distracted Driving

As experienced personal injury lawyers, we see more and more of these cases. The real cost of distracted driving, assuming you survive the accident, has become clear:

  • If you are injured in a car accident that has been caused by your distraction, and you try to sue the other driver for damages, in the worst case scenario your case will be thrown out of court.
  • If you are injured in a car accident that has been caused by your distraction and the fault of the other driver, the best case scenario will still result in your damage award being decreased by the percentage you are found to be at fault for the accident and this may be a significant percentage.
  • If you are the defendant driver and the person at fault in causing a car accident that has injured another person, and you caused the accident as a result of your distraction, in the worst case scenario you will be found fully responsible for the plaintiff’s damages, and in the best case scenario a percentage of the damages caused will be assessed against you.

For example, in this British Columbia case, a woman was injured when she struck another vehicle in an intersection while driving near the end of her work day. She sued the other driver for damages. The defence argued that she had caused the accident by being distracted while driving by talking on her cell phone. She told the judge that she had not been on her cell phone at the time of the accident, but had merely used her cell phone moments before the accident, before driving, to call her daughter to say she was on her way home. The records of her cell phone usage told a different story, however, and the judge found that she had been driving distracted at the time of the accident. He threw her case out of court.

In this British Columbia case the young male defendant driver was found 90% liable for the damages of the injured plaintiff as he had caused the accident by looking down at his ringing cell phone and slamming into the plaintiff’s car.

The bottom line is -stay sharp! Don’t be seduced by modern electronics into endangering yourself or others. Turn your cell phone off and put it away while driving.

Have You Been Injured By a Distracted Driver?

If distracted driving has played a role in injuries you have suffered, please CONTACT US for a free consultation. The friendly, approachable and knowledgeable lawyers at CAM LLP can review your situation and help you assess your options.

October 20th to 26th is National Teen Driver Safety Week. This is an opportunity to raise awareness about how young drivers can be safe on the roads. Parachute Canada is leading the way in engaging communities to raise awareness about how young drivers and their passengers can remain safe on the roads. If you’re looking for more information about how to talk to your child about distracted driving, please visit their website

Please note: This post was originally published in July 2017 and has since been updated to include recent events.