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Distracted Driving Accidents

What is Distracted Driving?

The phrase “distracted driving” refers to any activity that diverts the attention of a driver from doing something other than driving their motor vehicle. While there are many different activities that may qualify as distracted driving, such as texting, eating, and applying make-up, they are primarily broken down into four categories. 

The four categories of driving distractions are:

    • Visual: Visual distractions include tasks like checking your phone, texting, taking a selfie, and so on. As implied by the name, these are distractions that force a driver to look at anything other than the road.
    • Auditory: Auditory distractions involve sounds or noises occurring inside your car. For example, if the radio or your passengers are too loud and the sound causes you to lose focus on the road. 
    • Cognitive: This type of distraction is one that occupies your mind or train of thought. For instance, having a heated argument over the phone, even if the phone is on speaker or you are using a hands-free device. 
    • Manual: Manual distractions involve any activity that forces you to take your hands off the wheel, such as eating, applying make-up, and fiddling with an electronic music device.

Regardless of how the activity is categorized, any act that occupies a driver's attention and causes them to lose their focus while operating a motor vehicle will generally be considered a form of distracted driving.

What are Some Distracted Driving Laws?

Although traffic laws will vary by state and sometimes even by county, the majority of states have at least some form of distracted driving laws. Montana is the one exception out of 48 states and the District of Columbia that does not have a statewide law. However, certain populous counties in Montana have implemented local regulations. 

State laws for distracted driving range from anywhere between vague to extremely specific. For example, some states have broad statutes that provide an ambiguous definition for “distracted driving”, while other states have narrower statutes that limit the type of activities that qualify as distracted driving (e.g., no texting). 

How Do You Prove Negligent or Distracted Driving?

The plaintiff to a distracted driving case typically must prove that the other driver was distracted while driving by demonstrating the four elements of negligence:

    • Duty: First, the plaintiff must show that drivers owe a reasonable duty of care to those around them. This means that they operate their motor vehicle in a lawful and safe manner, and that they make a reasonable effort to avoid injuring others while driving. 
    • Breach: Next, the plaintiff will have to prove that they breached the duty of care by demonstrating that a reasonable driver would not have acted in the way the defendant did in the same scenario.
    • Causation: After proving duty and breach, the plaintiff is required to show that the defendant was both the actual and proximate cause of the resulting injuries. 
    • Damages: The final element goes hand-in-hand with causation and is essentially proving that the defendant caused the plaintiff's injuries. In order to show proof of damages, the plaintiff can submit evidence, such as medical bills, police reports, paystubs displaying lost wages, etc.  

What Kinds of Injuries Can Distracted Driving Cause?

Distracted driving can cause many different kinds of injuries, including:

  • Car accidents (e.g., collisions with another car, pedestrian, bicycle, etc.);
  • Minor injuries like a scrape, or more serious injuries, such as severe bodily harm or death 

Distracted driving crashes can also result in:

  • Property damage (e.g., to the motor vehicle or to the land); and/or
  • Legal consequences.

What is the Risk of Driving While Using Smartphones?

The use of smartphones while driving is the number one cause for drivers to be distracted while operating their motor vehicle. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, distracted driving kills approximately 9 people every day in the United States. Below is a non-exhaustive list of ways people use their cell phone which distracts them while driving:

  • Talking on your cell phone while driving, even if it is on speaker phone;
  • Texting while driving;
  • Reaching for your phone;
  • Checking your GPS;
  • Taking a photo or selfie;
  • Checking your email; and/or
  • Browse the internet.

Using your smartphone while driving puts yourself and other drivers on the road in danger.

What are Some Cell Phone Laws?

With the prevalence of cell phones, many states have enacted laws that relate to usage of cell phones while driving. Some states allow drivers to use their cell phone so long as it is hands-free (speaker/Bluetooth). Other states forbid all cell phone use while driving, even with hands-free devices by certain classes of drivers, such as drivers under the age of 18. 

What if a Driver Using a Smartphone Injures Another Driver?

A defendant who is caught using a smartphone while driving can face criminal charges depending on the state where he resides. As each state has different laws with regard to cell phone laws, his punishment depends on the state where the accident occurs.

Even if the driver gets into an accident and injures a plaintiff in a state which does not prohibit the use of smartphones while driving, he can still face liability for negligently inflicting injuries on another.

What Should I Do if I'm Injured by a Driver Using a Smartphone?

If you're involved in a car accident caused by a driver using a smartphone, you first need to make sure you and your passengers are unhurt. If you are injured, go to the hospital immediately. If you're not injured and if no one has notified the police yet of the accident, call the police and give them an official statement.

Be sure to mention that the driver was using his cell phone at the time of the incident. Ask any witnesses to give a statement to the police as well. Finally, when you're able, call your insurance company and let them know about the accident.

How Can a Plaintiff Recover Damages?

To successfully use negligence in a tort action, the plaintiff must prove:

  • the defendant had a duty of care;
  • the duty of care was breached; and
  • the plaintiff was injured as a result.

A negligence tort for a smart phone car accident must prove these three elements in order for the plaintiff to recover damages. Drivers have a duty of care to care for other drivers, and if using the smart phone while driving is against the law in the state where the accident occurs, the plaintiff may be able to argue that the duty of care was breached.

Who is Considered to be a Novice Driver?

The novice driver classification generally refers to drivers under 21 years of age with a driver's license or learner's permit. Some states refer to drivers under age 18 as novice drivers. In other states, the novice classification refers to any driver with a learner's permit or provisional license.

A novice driver also includes someone who has had a license for less than 6 months. Which means an older driver, even someone who is over 30 or 40, who is newly licensed would be considered a novice driver until they had their license for more than 6 months.

What is “Teen Texting”?

“Teen texting” refers to a driver under the age of 20 operating a motor vehicle while typing, viewing, or reading text messages on a mobile device. It should be noted that as of March 2018, 38 states ban any cell phone use by a teen or novice driver.

Does Federal Law Prohibit Teen Texting?

No, federal law does not prohibit texting while driving, including that by teenagers. Currently, 47 states have banned all texting while driving, while 2 states prohibit texting by novice drivers.

How are Teen Laws Against Driving and Texting Enforced?

Violations for teen driving and texting are either primary or secondary law, depending on the state. Primary law means a police officer can stop a driver for a particular offense. Secondary law means an officer cannot pull the driver over for that particular offense, but can pull the driver over for a different violation.

For instance, in states where teen texting is a secondary offense, if a police officer sees a teen texting while driving, the teen will have to commit another crime, such as running a red light to be pulled over.

What are the Penalties for Distracted Driving?

States dictate the punishments for distracted driving. Most distracted driving cases are considered traffic offences punishable by monetary fines, although some states impose stricter penalties. For example, in Alaska, the penalty for texting while driving can be up to a $10,000 fine and one year in prison depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. It is one of the states with the harshest penalties. Idaho also considers distracted driving a criminal misdemeanor.

Can Distracted Drivers Face Additional Liability?

Yes. Distracted drivers often get into accidents and cause injuries, which lead to lawsuits. Distracted drivers could be sued for negligence or recklessness. A guilty verdict can result in a defendant having to pay damages and attorneys' fees.

Should I Speak to a Lawyer for Distracted Driving?

In many cases distracted driving charges can be handled in a traffic court or online. However, if the offense involves serious injury or property damages, you may wish to consult a lawyer for advice. Distracted driving can be a criminal misdemeanor depending on your jurisdiction. Consulting with a skilled traffic violation attorney can be of great benefit if you are involved in distracted driving charges. Call our office today at 212-994-7777 or complete the convenient online contact form to set up a consultation.