Truck Accidents Caused by Distracted Driving in New Jersey

Over the course of five years from 2015 to 2019, 878 fatal accidents were linked to distracted driving, according to the New Jersey State Police in their 2019 Fatal Motor Vehicle Crash report. Unfortunately, while the numbers have decreased from 2016’s high of 217, the numbers continue to hover consistently at roughly 150 fatal accidents being easily avoided each year if drivers would only focus on the road.

Worse yet, distracted driving is not limited to drivers of small cars and trucks. Drivers of tractor-trailers and similarly large vehicles are just as likely to be guilty of distracted driving despite having greater responsibility to control their unwieldy vehicles. Over the same five-year period, the same report showed that 72 of the 231 fatal accidents involving tractor-trailers listed driver inattention as a key contributing factor to the collision. At 31% of the total fatal accidents, distracted driving is the largest contributor to fatal tractor-trailer accidents.

Fortunately, victims and their loved ones are not without means of compensation. Whether injured or killed, they are able to receive benefits from the built-in Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits of their New Jersey auto policies. However, PIP benefits may not cover all of the medical expenses inflicted by these accidents, and if one has experienced severe pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life, these benefits provide no compensation whatsoever for those non-economic damages.

In situations like these, it is important to remember that a victim may have the right to sue.

When truck drivers have engaged in negligent behaviors connected to distracted driving, then they are responsible for the results of their actions.

The laws of New Jersey criminalize many of these acts, and while criminal law will not provide compensation directly to victims, the courts do recognize such acts as carrying the weight of liability in civil courts.

Forms of Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is not a single form of action, but rather a broad category of actions. These actions are activities that will divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving safely. Regardless of what specific act they are, they can endanger the lives of the driver engaging in the behavior, other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

For the purposes of identification, a good list of distracted driving behaviors would be the following:

  • Texting while driving
  • Calling someone using a cell phone or smartphone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading things such as maps
  • Adjusting a navigation system
  • Looking at the passing scenery
  • Adjusting a radio or any other audio playback devices

Any one of these behaviors could result in the loss of life in an accident, and New Jersey criminalizes most of them implicitly through the use of NJ Rev Stat § 39:4-97.2. This statute criminalizes the act of driving or operating a vehicle in any manner that might endanger the lives and property of others. Punishments for violating this statute become harsher with each violation that occurs within five years of the previous one, as shown by the following table.

# of ViolationsFineCourt SurchargeLicense Points
3rd Onwards$200-500$250Varies

Not all acts listed as distracted driving will result in a violation. As the law says, the manner of driving must endanger the lives and property of others. A driver may be able to take a sip of a drink that only requires one hand to pick up, as long as they maintain their eyes on the road. 

Cell Phone Usage

Because of the dangers posed by cell phone usage while driving, New Jersey has placed the behaviors associated with cell phone usage under a separate statute.

This statute, NJ Rev Stat § 39:4-97.3, explicitly bans the usage of a cell phone or electronic communication device while driving unless the device being used is hands-free. 

Certain circumstances, such as reporting a fire or a driver who appears to be intoxicated, will act as acceptable exceptions in which a driver may use their phone. But these are the clear exceptions as listed under the law, and otherwise, usage of a hand-held communication device will get a truck driver pulled over and ticketed.

The penalties for violating this statute are also different from the previous one. The following table lists what punishments will be dealt to violators.

# of ViolationsFineCourt SurchargeLicense PointsBan on Driving?
3rd Onwards$600-800$250390 days

What Sorts of Truck Accidents Does Distracted Driving Lead To?

Typically, distracted driving will lead to a variety of collisions as truckers lose sight of other drivers, road signals, and the road itself. This means head-on collisions, rear-ends, overruns, and t-bones are all quite possible as a truck driver’s ignorance of these features will lead to them colliding with another driver. Pedestrians and cyclists are also at serious risk of injury and death if struck by a truck.

Distracted driving also lessens the ability of the driver to control their own vehicle, which can lead to a variety of problems. A trucker who does not maintain proper control of their vehicle in harsh weather conditions may suddenly jackknife if they lose control over the truck’s trailer. A truck may also rollover in the middle of a sloping, curved turn and end up on its side in the middle of the road.

In case you are unsure what type of truck accident you were involved in, you can review our article on the various types of truck accidents that may be caused by reckless and negligent behavior on the part of truckers.

What Happens If You’re in an Accident with a Distracted Truck Driver?

Usually, if you are covered by an auto insurance policy and health insurance policy, your expenses in a minor accident will be covered by both. However, accidents can always cause serious injuries that go beyond what these policies can and will pay. In such cases, you will need to consider a lawsuit against a liable truck driver and employer.

A truck driver who engages in distracting behaviors which leads to an accident is obviously at fault for the accident. However, you will need to prove that they were engaging in the behavior when the accident took place. This may be difficult for the victim or eyewitnesses to see given the fact that truck drivers are often raised higher in their cab than car drivers. But, if the guilty party was using a cell phone at the time of the accident, an attorney will have means of verifying that the driver was distracted. Beyond checking police records of the accident to see if the truck driver confessed to texting while driving, the cell phone service provider can be required to turn over records of usage at the time of the accident. Additionally, a street or store security camera may show the driver was distracted in some way, even if they are sitting higher up in a truck.

While a conviction for a traffic violation will not provide civil compensation to you directly, you may be able to use a truck driver’s conviction as evidence in your civil case.

If you can prove that the driver’s violation took place at the same time of the accident, then you will often have a clear piece of evidence that will act as proof of the truck driver’s guilt.

A driver’s employer may also be held responsible for the accident if the driver has a known history of bad driving. Truck companies and businesses that use large trucks are expected to make sure their drivers are qualified and capable of driving the vehicles provided to them. If the company fails to do so, whether through improper background checking or simply ignoring a trucker’s poor driving history, then they can be complicit in their employee’s accident.

In our experience, you will settle with a liable driver and employer well before entering a courtroom. In a distracted driving case, it is highly likely that a guilty party will settle when presented evidence that proves that they allowed their attention to wander in a manner that led to a collision. Usually, this process will take only a few weeks or months.

However, if you must go to trial, prepare for a legal process that may take years to resolve. Attorneys hired to represent both sides will begin the process of discovery, which may require up to a year, and a trial will not begin until after this process has finished. Once a trial does begin, it may take several years before a decision is reached.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What can be used to prove that a truck driver was engaging in distracted driving behaviors?

Truck drivers may be seen by other drivers and pedestrians engaging in the behavior, but depending on their vehicle, they may be raised too high for a street-level eyewitness to view them. However, a street camera may be able to catch them in the act due to its elevated position. Additionally, if the driver was using their phone when an accident occurred, there would be a digital record of it. Your attorney would be able to make a formal request for this documentation and use it to determine if the driver was either texting or calling someone at the time of the accident.

If the trucker has been cited for distracted driving violations multiple times, can my attorney use this as evidence in my case?

Yes, though your attorney will still need to prove that your particular case was caused by distracted driving on the truck driver’s part. If you are able to do so, and the court allows the trucker’s record to be noted, then you may also receive punitive damages as a punishment for the trucker failing to learn from past mistakes.

Can I sue a trucker for wrongful death if my family member or loved one died in an accident caused by their distracted driving?

Yes; a lawsuit is usually the primary option for receiving proper compensation as a family in the event of a fatal accident. You may also name a  truck driver’s employer or truck rental company as a defendant if they provided the vehicle to a driver who has a history of distracted driving. They would share in the liability for your loved one’s death as they would have provided a driver with a track record of dangerous behaviors with the means to injure another.

Who Should You Contact if You’ve Been Injured by a Distracted Truck Driver?

If you or a loved one has been injured by a truck driver engaging in distracted driving, contact Rosenblum Law for a free consultation today. Our experienced personal injury lawyers can guide you through the process and get you the best settlement or verdict possible. Call 888-815-3649 or email us today.

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