The holiday season is now over. And once again, drunk drivers got top billing.
How bad is it? The Christmas holiday period usually ends up costing 320 lives lost on the nation’s roads every year. Another 365 fatalities happen during the three-day New Year’s holiday period. Additionally, every year 37,000 people are seriously injured on our roads every Christmas holiday; another 42,000 Americans are injured in car accidents during the New Year’s holiday.
And a significant percentage of these accidents involve alcohol.
But it also depends on what time you are driving. Between 9AM and noon, 5% of motor accidents involve a drunk driver: but from midnight to 3AM, 65% of traffic accidents involve a drunk driver.
So, when driving on the roads, we have to remain vigilant at all times. Many drivers do things which are unsafe and increase the risk of your becoming involved in a car accident. The main “sins” that people commit while driving are:
- Drinking before driving
- Consuming drugs (prescription or recreational) before driving
- Texting while driving
- Talking on a mobile phone while driving
- Not using seat-belts for driver and passengers
- Incorrect placement and/or securement of child safety car seat
- Turning your head to look at your passengers while driving
- Putting on makeup while driving
- Eating or drinking while driving
- Adjusting instruments like GPS and car radio while driving
- Looking at a map while driving
- Reading while driving (yes, we’ve seen people injured and killed while reading)
- Exceeding posted speed limits
- Driving an unsafe vehicle
- Lighting a cigarette while driving
- Not looking in the rear-view mirror often enough
Imagine getting killed or injured – or killing or injuring someone else – because you were doing/not doing one of the things on the above list. Every year, people die and get hurt because drivers are careless. That means many of these accidents were preventable: if drivers are more vigilant, there will be fewer accidents, fewer injuries, and fewer deaths.
Drunk driving is definitely preventable. It’s simple – if you’ve had more than one drink, you should not drive a car. Period. One drink is okay, but if you have more than 0.08% alcohol in your blood, your are considered legally drunk – which makes it illegal for you to operate a car under those circumstances. Even if you have less than 0.08% alcohol, you may still be found guilty of drunk driving if the police officer determines that you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs after conducting a field sobriety test.
Law enforcement can also use a number of physical methods to determine the level of alcohol in your blood, including a breathalyzer test, a urine test or a blood test. If you are asked to submit to one of these tests, you have the right to refuse, but it will then be assumed that you were under the influence of alcohol as accused.
So you’re driving safely, observing all the traffic laws and practicing safety, and you can still get hit by a drunk driver.
What do you do if your are involved in a car accident with a drunk driver?
Over 30 years as personal injury lawyers, we have seen thousands of cases where people were involved in car accidents which involved alcohol. This is what we have seen regarding accidents with drunk drivers:
The drunk driver is dead. This happens often. Unfortunately, you cannot go through the driver’s pockets looking for his driver’s license. You have to wait until paramedics and law enforcement arrive on the scene. Make sure you are told how to follow up to exchange contact information etc.
The drunk driver has taken off. Many times, a drunk driver will hit a car or a pedestrian and not be aware of it, continuing on as if nothing happened. “Hit-and-run” and “Leaving the scene of an accident” charges will be added to that driver’s drunk driving charge. Call 911 immediately, and give them the best description you can of the other car.
The drunk driver is there, and is obviously drunk. If the driver seems drunk or you smell alcohol on his breath, make sure you inform the police immediately they arrive on the scene. Depending on the driver’s condition following the accident, a blood sample will be taken from the driver as soon as possible to determine his blood-alcohol level.
The drunk driver becomes abusive. If a person is very angry and they get drunk, getting involved in a car accident may make them even more angry. In their impaired condition, they may think the accident is your fault and may start blaming you. If possible, videotape this on your cellphone. If you feel the drunk driver may become physically abusive to you, lock yourself in your car. And videotape him. Violence – or even a threat of violence – by a drunk driver against you will add more charges to his crime.
If you see a drunk driver on the road, try to get the license plate or a description of the car – make, color – and immediately report it to 911. Some people think it’s their constitutional right to load up on alcohol and go for a joyride. It’s not. Drinking and driving is about the most dangerous thing a person can do in public.
Obtaining a Settlement After an Accident With a Drunk Driver.
In order to obtain a settlement with the insurance company of a driver with whom you’ve had a car accident while he/she was drunk, the driver must have some third party liability insurance. California law requires every driver to carry a minimum amount of third party liability insurance coverage. However, if the driver only carries the legal minimum amount of coverage, you may have difficulty collecting a large settlement. Other factors may be brought into play to increase the size of your settlement. These are some factors which could increase the amount of your settlement:
The driver was working at the time and was driving a vehicle owned by his employer. Commercial vehicles and other vehicles owned by companies generally have higher insurance coverage for third party liability.
The driver was drinking at a bar, and the bartender didn’t make sure he was okay to drive. Bartenders today may have a certain amount of responsibility to see that their patrons do not drive away drunk.
The driver was at a party in a private home, and the host knew the person was drunk but did not prevent him from leaving the party. Same as with bars, the host may have a certain amount of responsibility to make sure a person is not drunk when he/she leaves your home after a party or dinner.
There are many other factors which can influence the size of a settlement when you are involved in an accident with a drunk driver. An experienced personal injury law firm knows the answers and can get you the best settlement.
Personal injury lawyers are usually “No win, No fee” – if they don’t obtain a settlement for you, you don’t owe them any money. A large personal injury law firm has the resources to aggressively litigate against the insurance companies – which can be drawn out for years – and can often advance you funds to take care of medical expenses and living costs while you are recovering from your accident and are not able to work.
Compensation can then be obtained to cover your medical expenses, income lost while you were unable to work, for any rehabilitation, retraining, or prosthetic devices you might need, and also for your pain and suffering. Huge settlements are often obtained for injury, death, and pain and suffering, especially when it can can be proven that someone acted recklessly or negligently.
So let’s all resolve to be more alert when we drive. During the holiday season, the best way to drive is to assume that every other driver on the road is drunk or on drugs, and proceed with caution at all times. If you are at a party and have had more than one drink in the past hour, do not drive home – have a cup of coffee and wait at least one hour before driving. Or call Uber, call a friend, or call a cab.
If you see a drunk guest at the party about to get into a car, inform the host. If you see a patron in a bar about to leave and get into a car drunk, inform the bartender. And if you see a driver on the road who seems drunk, call 911 immediately.
Have a safe and happy 2017. Please be safe.