Oftentimes we think of the driver of one vehicle or another as being at fault for an accident, but what if that driver was distracted because of a passenger in their vehicle?
The idea of a passenger as being at fault for an accident can present distinct challenges, but there are times when a disorderly passenger is in fact liable.
Traditionally we expect drivers of a vehicle to maintain focus and avoid distractions, but unique situations with irresponsible passengers can lead to unavoidable accidents and qualify as a concert of action.
Here are some of the situations in which a passenger may be found liable or share liability for an accident:
Encouraging an intoxicated driver to get behind the wheel.
In this situation, there could be a shared liability as the passenger not only allowed the intoxicated individual to drive but encouraged or forced it.
Encouraging a driver to engage in risky behavior.
Passengers who dare their drivers to participate in risky behaviors such as road games or speeding also can share responsibility for any accidents caused by such actions.
Physically touching the driver while the car is in motion.
Passengers who touch the driver, such as putting their hands over their eyes, kissing, hitting or other physical behaviors, can be dangerous and lead to an accident in which the passenger is at fault if the driver was unable to control the passenger.
Interfering with the vehicle.
Grabbing the wheel while the car is in motion, attempting to touch the gas or brake pedals, playing with the windshield wipers, etc., can be actions that lead to an accident not caused by the driver.
It has been well documented that driving with a passenger or passengers increases your likelihood of distracted driving, particularly in younger drivers. However, passengers who are loud, demanding attention or causing distractions with movement are not likely to be found liable for an accident; in these situations, a responsible driver would be expected to pull over to avoid an accident.
Similar to parents who drive with unruly or fussy children, drivers must make the choice to remain focused or stop the car and attend to the situation at hand. A toddler would not be held liable for their crying distracting a parent driver, and a friend telling a story or otherwise demanding the driver’s attention is unlikely to as well.
Proving passenger liability can be challenging, particularly if you and said passenger are the only ones in the vehicle at the time of the accident. In these situations, it is important to contact an attorney you can trust to represent your case. Most likely, you had a prior relationship with your passenger, which can make things even trickier, and if other passengers were present, they too may be personally involved with both parties and not want to take sides.
If you are driving and distracted by a passenger in one of the above ways, do your best to document their behaviors and keep track of the sequence of events. In no way should you attempt to document them in a way that would result in more distracted driving, but if there is another passenger who could film or record the behaviors, that could become important evidence against them.
Similarly, it is possible that if you get into an accident with another vehicle, its driver or passengers could have witnessed your passenger’s behaviors and provide a statement.
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