The Five Types of Driving Impairment
Driver error causes about 95 percent of the car crashes in Florida. Frequently, this error is a moving violation, like speeding. In fact, excessive speed causes or contributes to about a third of the fatal vehicle collisions in Florida.
For the most part, driver impairment is different. These problems always begin before the driver gets behind the wheel. For that reason, a Port St. Lucie personal injury attorney is often able to obtain substantial compensation after an impairment-related wreck. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
The newest addition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s list of driving impairments might also be the most complex one. Most drivers agree that texting while driving and other such behaviors are dangerous. But most drivers admit they engage in such behaviors anyway.
Distracted driving comes in many forms, but hand-held cell phones get most of the headlines. These devices combine all three forms of distraction, which are:
- Cognitive (taking one’s mind off driving),
- Manual (taking a hand off the wheel), and
- Visual (taking one’s eyes off the road).
Note that hands-free devices, although they are legal in Florida, are not much of an improvement. These gadgets are cognitively and visually distracting. Plus, they give users a false sense of security.
To establish liability for damages, distracted driving crash victims may use either direct or circumstantial evidence. More on these concepts below.
Direct evidence of distracted driving usually involves the negligence per se doctrine. Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) who violate safety laws and cause crashes are presumptively liable for damages. Circumstantial evidence of distracted driving includes things like call logs, web browsing history, and text message logs.
These same forms of evidence apply in alcohol-related crashes. But they work a bit differently. If the tortfeasor was charged with DUI, the tortfeasor is typically liable for civil damages as a matter of law.
Most people are intoxicated after three or four drinks, but impairment begins with the first drink. So, alcohol could be a factor in a crash even if the tortfeasor was not charged with DUI. Evidence of impairment includes things like:
- Bloodshot eyes,
- Slurred speech,
- Erratic driving, and
- Unsteady balance.
The burden of proof in civil court is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). So, although these physical impairment symptoms are not very compelling evidence, they usually hold up in court.
Alcohol impairment and fatigue have roughly the same effect on the brain and body. Both conditions cloud judgment abilities and slow motor skills. In fact, driving after eighteen consecutive hours without sleep is like driving with a .05 BAC level.
Fatigued driving is not against the law in Florida. So, these claims always involve circumstantial evidence, such as the time of day or night, amount of rest the tortfeasor had the previous night, and any statements the tortfeasor made about drowsiness.
There is no Breathalyzer test for drug use, at least not yet. Thus, all DUI-drug cases involve circumstantial evidence, both in criminal court and in civil court. Such evidence includes:
- Physical symptoms, such as glassy eyes,
- Open medicine bottles in the vehicle,
- Current prescriptions for Oxycontin or other painkillers, and
- Illegal drugs seized in the car.
In many jurisdictions, there are more “drugged” drivers than “drunk” drivers. Most of these cases involve marijuana or prescription drug use. Even if the substance is legal to ingest, it’s illegal to drive under the influence of these substances.
The types of impairment often overlap. Sleep apnea is a good example. People with this condition basically nap all night. They get little, if any, deep and restorative sleep.
Other times, a medical condition is an independent issues. A number of conditions could cause a sudden loss of consciousness. Examples include epilepsy, heart disease, and diabetes. It is very dangerous for people with these conditions to drive.
Sometimes, the state suspends driver’s licenses in these situations. People with invalid licenses are usually incompetent drivers as a matter of law. In other situations, victim/plaintiffs must use medical records and other circumstantial evidence to establish liability.
Reach Out to an Aggressive Lawyer
Impaired motorists often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. After-hours visits are available.