Too many people in New Braunfels and throughout Texas use cell phones when they drive. In fact, an AT&T survey revealed that seven out of every 10 drivers on the road today use their phones when they are behind the wheel. Most of these drivers talk or text while driving. However, a surprisingly high number of them use social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. This trend poses a serious safety concern.
Social media and driving is a dangerous combination. As one recent study found, social media use while driving may actually be riskier than any other phone-related distracted driving activity. This is why state and local laws now ban any form of “electronic messaging” while driving. Additionally, if a driver’s social media use while driving causes a car accident that injures another, the driver could face liability in a personal injury.
Study: Using Social Media While Driving Raises Crash Risk
The results of a 2015 AT&T survey show how “the smartphone has now opened up a terrifying number of ways to distract yourself while on the road.” In the survey of more than 2,000 drivers between ages 16 and 65, a whopping 61 percent said that they text and drive, while 33 percent said they e-mail while driving. Those two types of phone-related distracted driving activities were, by far, the most common.
However, the survey showed that drivers also frequently use social media. Drivers admitted in the survey that they use the following social media sites when they are behind the wheel:
- Facebook (27 percent)
- Twitter (14 percent)
- Instagram (14 percent)
- Snapchat (11 percent).
These survey results are alarming – especially in light of a study by the United Kingdom-based Institute of Advanced Motorists. In that study, researchers used a car simulator to measure drivers’ reaction times. Nothing slowed drivers’ reaction time more than social media.
The study found that drivers who sent or received Facebook messages while driving had a 37.6 percent slower reaction time than drivers who did not. The reaction time was slower than it was among drivers who:
- Texted (37.4 percent slower reaction time)
- Talked on a hands-free cell phone (26.5 percent)
- Were under the influence of marijuana (21 percent)
- Were at the legal limit for alcohol consumption (12.5 percent).
Think about what social media use involves: You have to look at your phone, use your hands and fingers to type a message and focus your attention on what you are reading or writing instead of concentrating on the road. Given this level of distraction, you can see how someone engaged in social media use while driving could easily fail to keep the right speed, see a traffic light or have time to avoid hitting another car, motorcycle, bicycle or pedestrian in their path.
Texas Laws Aim to Prevent Distracted Driving Crashes
Distracted driving has long been a problem on Texas roads. The Texas Department of Transportation reports that, in 2016, more than 109,000 distracted driving crashes occurred in our state, killing 455 people and causing 3,086 incapacitating injuries. In Comal County alone, distracted driving contributed to 380 auto accidents, including three crashes that resulted in deaths and 22 that caused serious injuries.
To address this issue, cities throughout Texas have enacted anti-distracted driving laws. These laws typically impose a ban that covers all types of activities, including social media use. For instance, in August 2015, the New Braunfels City Council passed an ordinance that generally prohibits the use of hand-held wireless communication devices while driving. The ban covers texting, taking pictures, playing games or engaging “in any other use of the device while operating a motor vehicle.”
More recently, Texas enacted a statewide ban on “electronic messaging” while driving. It covers not only texting and e-mailing but also instant-messaging others through social media sites like Facebook. The law took effect in September 2017. If you violate the ban, you face a misdemeanor charge as well as a fine that could be as high as $200 if you are a repeat offender. If you break the law and injure or kill someone in a crash, you could pay a fine as high as $4,000 and spend up to a year in jail.
(The texting law was long overdue. Texas was one of only four states that did not have such a ban. Still, many believe it did not go far enough. For instance, in most situations, you can still talk on your phone while driving.)
How Can Social Media Impact Your Car Accident Claim?
The Star-Telegram reports that a violation of the new Texas law will not add points to a person’s driving record because it is a non-moving violation. However, if a driver breaks the law, the driver could still have many other worries. In particular, if the driver causes an accident because he or she was texting or using social media while driving, the driver could be sued.
As drivers, we owe a duty to others to operate our vehicles in a safe, reasonable manner. If a person tries to read or send a tweet while driving, or if the person uses Facebook to try to instant-message someone, that person has clearly failed to live up to his or her duty and should be held liable for any harm that the person causes.
If you have suffered injuries in a crash that another driver caused, or if you lost a loved one in an accident, your lawyer can determine whether distracted driving played a role. As part of an investigation, the lawyer can seek the driver’s cell phone records or review social media activity. This evidence can establish that the driver was distracted at the time of the crash and should be liable for damages such as your past and future medical expenses, lost wages, pain, suffering and more.
Could Your Own Use of Social Media Hurt Your Car Accident Claim?
Of course, while your case is pending, you need to be careful about your own social media use. As The Huffington Post reports, auto insurance companies often try to use the photos, videos and status updates that people make on social media to dispute the cause of an accident and the nature and severity of a crash victim’s injuries. Your “likes” and the groups you follow could also reveal potentially damaging information.
For instance, consider these ways in which Facebook use could impact your claim:
- Previous posts and comments could tip insurers off to prior accidents or indicate that you have a habit of speeding or driving aggressively.
- Photos you post could indicate pre-existing conditions or suggest that your injuries are less severe than what you claim.
- Comments or “rants” about the insurance company could indicate bad faith in settlement negotiations.
As you move forward with your car accident lawsuit, you should:
- Never overshare personal information about yourself or the accident
- Change your settings from public to private (so only friends can see your posts)
- Do not allow yourself to be tagged in other people’s photos or posts
- Be wary of comments or “likes” on pages that are not private
- Stay away from apps that access your account or automatically share information.
Did a Distracted Driver Injure You or a Loved One? Get Legal Help Today
To learn more about how social media use while driving and other forms of distracted driving could impact your car accident claim, contact Burch Law Firm. Since 1990, our attorneys have provided aggressive representation to countless clients in New Braunfels and throughout central Texas. We can provide a free consultation today.