The Five Types of Driver Impairment in Houston

Jan 19, 2021 | Car Accidents, Personal Injury

Operational errors such as speeding and failure to yield cause the vast majority of car crashes in Harris County, usually with some form of driver impairment involved. Impaired motorists know what they’re doing when they get behind the wheel and need to be held accountable when they’ve injured or killed another person because of their choices.

Compensation awarded to victims of driver impairment usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages might be available as well, in extreme cases.

At Williams Hart, our Houston car accident lawyers do more than stand up for victims in court. We fight for our clients with diligence and compassion, and often quickly settle these claims out of court. Perhaps more importantly, our attorneys can connect car accident victims with doctors that won’t work in favor of the insurance company instead of your wellbeing.

Alcohol

In the 1980s, officials began a decades-long crackdown against driver impairment. That crackdown included tougher laws and more ruthless law enforcement methods. Yet despite all these efforts, alcohol still causes about a third of the fatal car crashes in Texas. That proportion is roughly unchanged since before the crackdown began.

Alcohol is a sedative that impairs a driver’s motor skills and judgment capabilities. These impairing effects begin with the first sip of alcohol. Signs of driver impairment include:

  • Erratic driving prior to the crash,
  • Tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) statements about prior alcohol consumption,
  • Physical symptoms, like bloodshot eyes and slurred speech, and
  • Tortfeasor’s prior schedule (i.e. had the tortfeasor recently visited a place that served alcohol).

Since the burden of proof in civil court is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), a few facts go a long way. For example, if the tortfeasor just came from a restaurant that serves alcohol, it’s more likely than not that the tortfeasor had at least one drink there.

If the tortfeasor was charged with DUI, the negligence per se rule could apply. Tortfeasors who violate safety laws and cause cashes could be liable for damages as a matter of law.

Fatigue

Most people are aware of the fact that drinking and driving are dangerous. However, many of these same people have no problem driving home after a long day at the office or a long night on the town. Alcohol and fatigue have roughly the same effect on the body and brain. In fact, driving after eighteen hours without sleep is like driving with a .05 BAC level.

Unless you are a truck driver, it is usually not against the law to drive while sleepy. So, the negligence per se doctrine usually does not apply in fatigued driving crashes. Circumstantial evidence of drowsiness includes erratic driving prior to the crash, time of day or night, and statements the tortfeasor made about being tired.

Distraction

When it comes to distracted driving, safety advocates often focus on hand-held cell phones. These gadgets combine all three kinds of distracted driving, which are:

  • Manual (hand off the wheel),
  • Cognitive (mind off driving), and
  • Visual (eyes off the road).

Hands-free phones might be even more dangerous. These devices are cognitively and visually distracting. Additionally, since these gadgets give drivers a false sense of security, they might take more chances while driving. Other causes of distracted driving include eating and drinking while driving.

Texas has a limited cell phone ban. It prohibits sending or reviewing text-based communications, such as emails or Facebook posts, while driving. A few local municipalities have tougher laws. So, the negligence per se rule might apply in some cases. However, most of these victim/plaintiffs must use circumstantial evidence, such as device usage logs, to establish a lack of care.

Medical Condition

Thousands of Texas drivers struggle with conditions like diabetes and heart disease which could cause a sudden and unexpected loss of consciousness. If that happens while the operator is behind the wheel, the results could include a catastrophic loss-of-control collision.

The Department of Public Safety suspends drivers’ licenses if it receives information about certain medical conditions. So, these tortfeasors could be liable for damages as a matter of law. But the DPS only knows what doctors or other professionals tell it. Furthermore, the resulting drivers’ license suspension rarely lasts longer than six months.

Circumstantial evidence of medical condition impairment usually includes medical records and erratic driving prior to the crash.

Drugs

In many jurisdictions, there are more “stoned” drivers than “drunk” drivers. Marijuana and prescription pain pills are the leading culprits. Hard street drugs, like cocaine and heroin, also impair many drivers. Additionally, some over-the-counter medicines, like NyQuill and Sominiex, could impair drivers for several hours or even longer. It might be legal or illegal to take these drugs. But it is always illegal, and unsafe, to drive under their influence.

As mentioned above, if the tortfeasor was arrested for DUI-drug use, the tortfeasor could be liable for damages as a matter of law. Circumstantial evidence of drug use includes physical symptoms and statements made. Generally, a drug’s impairing effects begin with the first puff, injection, or pill.

Impaired motorists often cause serious injuries. For a confidential consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Houston, contact Williams Hart today. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.

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