There are four-hundred and counting personal injury lawyers in Denver city. Perhaps they have a busy work schedule. The laws against careless or distracted driving are lax in Denver. Distracted driving is the legalese for the use of a cellphone while driving. Texting while driving is by itself a crime under state law. However, it can be enforced and prosecuted only if a law enforcing officer certifies seeing both texting and dangerous driving simultaneously. In legal jargon, texting while driving is a ‘secondary offense’. When another offense such as a crash happens, it is an aggravating factor and aggravates the crime but by and of itself, it cannot be prosecuted.
Last year (2019), the city witnessed more than 500 accidents that seriously injured people, in which seventy-one people died. However, police brought up ‘distracted driving charges’ only in five cases. This low rate of 1% can be compared to the national average of 9%. Efforts to strengthen the laws have met with strong resistance from the civil rights groups such as ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), Colorado. They have protested that allowing the law to stop cars on the pretext that the driver was looking at her cell phone will lead to a ‘nanny state’ and give undue power to the police forces. There is also a fear that police may harass vulnerable sections of the populations like the minorities. In the meanwhile, drivers continue with texting, the number of accidents keep rising and personal injury lawyers are kept busy.
In the usual PI (Personal Injury) case, damages are sought from the alleged perpetrator of the accident. However, PI lawyers try and bring in other parties who can afford to pay hefty damages. Last July, a five-year-old girl died in a horrendous car crash at the intersection of Randolph Avenue and Columbine Street in Denver. The blame was pinned on the babysitter who was driving the car. There were eight children in the car and none of the children had put on a seat belt. The babysitter was heavily drunk and was jumping red lights. She had prior convictions on alcoholism and was carrying an open can of alcohol while driving with the children. But at the end of it, all her ability to pay damages was meager. In comes Dram shop law. Under this law, if a vendor knowingly sells liquor to an underage or visibly drunk person, the vendor shall be held responsible for the consequential damage. This law was invoked in the proceedings to rope in the vendor who had sold liquor to the accused.
In a similar vein, a Denver man while rounding a corner in his bike near Brain, in June 2017, met with an accident. He suffered scalp injuries He sued the manufacturer of the helmet ‘Specialized Bicycle components’ for ten million dollars alleging faulty design of the helmet and insufficient protection. The Taiwanese firm was also forced to disclose to the judge that, though the firm was relatively small, it was owned by a large conglomerate group of companies
Lest we think that it is all about money-making, several public-spirited PI lawyers have come forward to promote safe driving and prevent accidents. Law offices of Ms. Dianne Sawaya have instituted a 1000$ cash award on an annual basis for safe driving. The Denver safe driving scholarship is awarded to a school senior or college student. The participants have to explain why they are against distracted driving and how they have campaigned in the community against it. The same firm also encourages people to use public transport rather than drive after drinking. For the long weekend of 4th July, they run a scheme under which metro tickets of up to 35$ are redeemed from anyone who avoids driving after a drink.
All in all, strenuous efforts are underway to bring forth a ‘hand-free law’ where the driver’s hands hold nothing but the steering wheel. But then, hands-free Bluetooth technology may create other distractions. Ultimately laws can do only so much. It is up to each driver to avoid driving after drinks and resolutely avoid distractions while driving. Let us all root for a safe driving year this year in Denver
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