Driving recklessly in South Carolina causes us a lot of sadness and injury, sometimes turning one heart-pounding moment on the highway into something much, much worse: a serious car accident. You may have heard reckless driving referred to as “aggressive driving,” but this definition is not the whole story. If any actions on the road put others in danger or show a disregard for human life, an argument can be made that these actions are reckless driving.
How Does SC Law Define Reckless Driving?
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, commenting on an entirely different matter in 1964, wrote the famous line, “I know it when I see it.” Most of us feel the same way about reckless driving. It is instantly recognizable—we know it when we see it—even if we can’t always define it concisely.
Our state code of laws does a decent job of defining the problem. SC Code § 56-5-2920 reads as follows: “Any person who drives any vehicle in such a manner as to indicate either a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.” But this statement may sound a bit unclear. When we speak of “willful or wanton disregard,” exactly what do we mean? Consider this: In certain situations, all of the following behaviors could be defined as reckless driving under the law:
- Using your cell phone to read or send messages or make a call, eating and drinking, putting on makeup, reading a book (yes, it has been done!), or any other kind of behavior that could be defined as distracted driving. These behaviors can include rear-ending someone because you were not paying sufficient attention to the vehicle in front of you.
- Ignoring road signs, such as failing to yield, or illegally passing on a blind curve or when there is a double yellow line. This situation can also include ignoring traffic signals, such as running red lights or “trying to beat” yellow lights.
- Breaking the speed limit by an enormous amount, or driving too fast for road conditions.
- Any form of drag racing.
- Obviously, passing a stopped school bus that is flashing its red lights.
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or any drug.
- Weaving in traffic, tailgating, cutting someone off, making unsafe lane changes, swerving, or displaying threatening gestures. All of these are the classic behaviors known collectively as “road rage.”
- Driving a vehicle that is unsafe mechanically. One notable example could be operating a commercial vehicle which has bad brakes or steering.
Numbers That Should Give You Pause
Most reckless driving accidents are entirely avoidable because the driver is the one at fault. Too often, a lack of attention, or even deliberate behaviors, result in a tragic accident for all involved. Did you know that, in 2014 in South Carolina, the primary reason in over 94 percent of all traffic crashes was driver-related?
Here are the numbers:
- Speeding over 10 MPH above the limit: 34.14 percent of all accidents involving driver violations
- Not yielding the right of way: 16.87 percent
- Changing lanes illegally or other moving violation: 11.14 percent
- Driving under the influence: 6.68 percent
- Disregarding traffic signals: 3.68 percent
- Following too closely 1.42 percent.
The figures released by the South Carolina Department of Public Safety (SCDPS) for 2014, which is the most recent year for which figures are available, indicate that:
- Excessive speed contributed to 214 deaths.
- Driving under the influence contributed to 171 deaths.
- Failing to yield the right of way contributed to 69 deaths.
- Wrong side or wrong-way driving contributed to 49 deaths.
- Disregarding signs and signals contributed to 29 deaths.
- Aggressive driving contributed to 26 fatalities.
- Distracted driving contributed to 11 deaths.
In all, 701 persons lost their lives on SC roads in 2014.
Don’t be fooled by that seemingly-low number (26 fatalities) for aggressive driving. In a survey conducted in 2016 by the American Automobile Association (AAA), nearly 80 percent of drivers admitted to showing significant aggression or anger at least once in the past year. Behaviors listed in the survey included:
- Tailgating on purpose (51 percent)
- Yelling at a driver (47 percent)
- Aggressive honking (45 percent)
- Gesturing angrily (33 percent)
- Blocking another vehicle from changing lanes (24 percent)
- Deliberately cutting off another vehicle (12 percent)
- Getting out of a vehicle to challenge the other driver (4 percent)
- Deliberately bumping or crashing into another vehicle (3 percent).
Is it any wonder that almost two out of three drivers think aggressive driving is more of a problem today than just three years ago? Or that 90 percent of drivers believe than another driver’s aggression is a significant threat to their own personal safety? It looks as if they are right to be concerned.
I’ve Been in an Accident and Suffered Injury. What Can I Do?
If the accident was someone else’s fault due to reckless driving, you may be entitled to compensation for medical costs, lost wages, and other financial losses. But you may also be entitled to punitive damages, meaning a financial amount that exceeds actual damages meant to punish an egregiously bad act. In a number of cases, punitive damages could be awarded to those who suffer an accident and injury at the hands of another negligent driver.
Punitive damages could apply if the driver of the other vehicle was grossly negligent, such as when operating a tractor trailer while under the influence, or driving a vehicle with demonstrable mechanical problems. Such damages can also apply if the driver was served too much alcohol by a bar or other establishment.
Injured by a Reckless Driver? Contact Our Accident Lawyers
If you have been injured in a reckless driving accident, or have lost a loved one as the result of such an accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries or your loss. When reckless driving plays a role in an accident, it is likely that the behavior equates to negligence in the collision. When that is the case, victims need to be compensated for their injuries, and the negligent driver needs to be held accountable for his or her reckless driving.
The best way to ensure such a result is to contact an experienced reckless driving accident attorney now to find out what legal options you may have. The Louthian Law Firm has been helping injured South Carolinians since 1959 by providing experienced, hard-hitting representation in settlement negotiations and at trial. We will be happy to meet with you for a free, no-obligation case evaluation. In fact, you will not pay any fees until we win your case.