In the District of Columbia, the law requires that drivers use reasonable care to avoid accidents that harm others. Well, what is “reasonable care”? Reasonable care is generally understood to mean devoting your full time and attention to driving in a safe manner. If your attention to the road is drawn away by flipping through emails on the road, there’s more than a small chance a court will find you were not exercising reasonable care.
Of course, circumstances can change the definition of reasonable care. If your car was swept up in a sudden flash flood that caused your car to smash into another vehicle, the traditional definition of reasonable care will take into account the extraordinary circumstances. If, on the other hand, you’re glued to the Facebook iPhone app while plowing into the car in front of you, your friends’ status updates are not going to alter the meaning of “reasonable care” – no matter how funny or shocking the update was. The point is: the legal concept of “reasonable care” takes into account the circumstances surrounding an accident, but it’s still bound by common sense.
The D.C. courts have helpfully outlined some other specific legal duties that apply to D.C. drivers:
- Duty to keep a proper lookout
- Duty to maintain control of their vehicles
- Duty to “look observantly and with effect” for road hazards (usually other vehicles, but also pedestrians)
In Brown v. Clancy, a D.C. case dating back to 1945 that continues to be referenced approvingly, the D.C. Court of Appeals commented that looking observantly requires intelligent and careful consideration of one’s surroundings that allows drivers to see what a reasonable and careful driver would be able to see.
So, in other words, if you just stare around when you’re driving and do not scrutinize what’s going on in the vicinity of your vehicle, you’re violating your legal duties to other drivers. With so many people using cell phone apps and texting while driving, it’s clear many District of Columbia residents expose themselves to liability by failing to pay attention to the road.
At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., we make certain to question defendant drivers if they were using their cell phones immediately prior to an accident. We may also subpoena a defendant’s cell phone records if we suspect the defendant’s cell phone use caused inattention to driving. If it’s discovered that the defendant was surfing the Web right before the accident happened, it can make a stronger cause for the injured victim and demonstrate that the defendant was negligent and caused the car crash.