When you get in your car – either to run a quick errand, start your daily commute, or head out on a longer journey – you expect to arrive at your destination safely. Whether or not that happens, however, often depends as much on your own driving abilities as it does on factors outside of your control. Road and weather conditions, for instance, can affect your driving experience. So can other drivers. A driver who is intoxicated or overtired, one who is distracted, or someone who does not know or follow the rules of the road can cause a deadly accident. In fact, the number one cause of car accidents in rural areas in North Dakota is drivers who unintentionally leave their lane. This can include drifting across the middle lane into traffic, or over the right lane onto the shoulder before leaving the road itself. Either scenario can result in a serious or even deadly car accident.
According to statistics compiled by the Highway Safety Division of the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT), one lane departure-related crash happened nearly every two-and-a-half hours in 2021. A lane departure-related fatality occurred nearly every six-and-a-half days.
What causes unintended lane departures?
There are many causes of unintended lane departures, but distracted driving, drowsiness, and impaired driving are among the most common reasons a driver unintentionally leaves their lane.
- Distracted driving. A term that has become more common with the rise of technology, specifically cell phones, distracted driving involves anything that takes a driver’s attention away from the task of driving. Per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three main categories that driver distractions fall into: visual, manual, and cognitive. Visual distractions cause drivers to take their eyes off the road, manual distractions cause drivers to take their hands off the wheel, and cognitive distractions cause drivers to take their mind off of driving. Any one of these factors can impair a driver’s ability to safely operate their vehicle, including unintentionally leaving their lane.Texting, scrolling through social media, or surfing the internet while driving are all common distractions that can result in an accident. However, things like talking on the phone or to passengers, applying makeup, shaving, refereeing children, eating or drinking, passenger behavior, or simply changing the radio station can all take a driver’s attention away from the road and potentially cause an unintended lane departure.
- Drowsy driving. According to the CDC, drowsy driving occurs when a person who has not had enough sleep gets behind the wheel of a vehicle. It can also be the result of untreated sleep disorders, shift work, or prescription or over-the-counter medications that cause drowsiness. A drowsy or overtired driver may fall asleep at the wheel, which can cause obvious problems, but even a drowsy driver who does not actually fall asleep while driving can cause an accident. Per the CDC, being tired:
- Impairs your ability to pay attention to the road
- Slows down your reaction time, which can be a big problem if you have to brake suddenly or maneuver your vehicle to avoid a potential problem
- Affects your decision-making ability
Drowsy driving is a bigger issue than many drivers may realize, with a September 2022 fact sheet from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety citing previous research in estimating that “6% to 11% of all police-reported motor vehicle crashes and 16% to 21% of fatal crashes likely involved drowsy driving.”
- Impaired driving. Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal in every state, including North Dakota, where the combination of too much alcohol and rural roads can be deadly. According to the NDDOT, “officer-suspected alcohol involvement was a contributing factor in 39.7% of fatal lane departure crashes in North Dakota” from 2017 to 2021. Keep in mind, this staggering statistic only includes fatal lane departure crashes. With unintended lane departures topping the list of reasons for car accidents on rural roads in North Dakota, it is possible that impaired driving may play a significant role in non-fatal accidents as well.
Preventing unintended lane departures
As a driver, your best defense against the behavior of other drivers is to always drive defensively. Stay alert and pay attention to the road at all times, doing your best to anticipate the actions of other drivers. Keep both hands on the wheel and be prepared to react as quickly as possible if a dangerous scenario presents itself. If an area is known to have accidents caused by drivers crossing the center line, try to opt for a different route, if possible. Above all, always wear your seatbelt and be sure your passengers have theirs on as well.
Keep in mind that there is only so much you can do to protect yourself against this type of accident. Even with all of these precautions, you or your loved ones may be involved in an accident caused by another driver unintentionally leaving their lane. One of your best defenses against a lane departure accident is if the other driver’s vehicle is equipped with a lane departure warning system.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), lane departure warning systems monitor the vehicle’s position in the driving lane and alert the driver if the vehicle approaches or crosses lane markers. The NHTSA says that driver assistance technology like lane departure warning systems can be an effective counter-measure against human error, potentially saving thousands of lives each year.
If you or a loved one were injured in a car accident caused by an unintended lane departure, it is important that you speak with an experienced North Dakota car accident attorney as soon as possible. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Even a seemingly minor accident can cause serious or catastrophic injures that can change the course of your or your loved ones’ lives. Lane departure accidents can cause everything from broken bones and soft-tissue damage to burns, spinal cord injuries (SCI), or traumatic brain injuries. These types of injuries often require not only emergency medical attention, but ongoing medical care and treatment. Surgeries, physical therapy, and other procedures can quickly deplete your insurance, while time away from work to undergo these treatments or to care for a loved one who has been injured can interfere with your income and ability to financially support yourself and your family.
While few people want to be involved in a lawsuit, it is often your best – and only – recourse for protecting yourself and your loved ones after an accident. The personal injury lawyers at Larson Law Firm P.C. can help. From our offices in Minot, Fargo, and Bismarck, we fight on behalf of accident victims throughout North Dakota. Fill out our contact form today to schedule a free consultation. We handle accident cases on a contingency fee basis.