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Beyond Statutory Bans – Legal Ways to Minimize Distracted Driving

What is distracted driving?

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) defines distracted driving as “any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving.” The DOT considers distracted driving an “epidemic” that causes preventable car accidents.

There are three different categories of driving distractions:

  1. Manual – this is when a driver takes his or her hands off the wheel.
  2. Visual – this is when a driver takes his or her eyes off of the road.
  3. Cognitive – this is when a driver’s mind wanders and does not focus on driving.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2011 statistics show that over 3,000 people were killed and nearly 390,000 were injured in car accidents that involved a distracted driver.  Any type of driving distraction – eating, drinking, tuning the radio, etc. – can be dangerous and may result in a car accident.  However, certain distractions, like texting or using a mobile phone while driving can prove deadly. Texting or using a mobile phone is a triple distraction threat; a driver’s manual, visual and cognitive attentions are all diverted.

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That depends on where you live.  Forty-one States and the District of Columbia have an outright ban on texting and driving.  Three states do not ban texting and driving.  Still, other states have varying restrictions.

Unfortunately, people continue to text and drive despite the existing bans.  The disregard for the law and safety could be due to enforcement issues. For example, in Florida, texting and driving is only a secondary offense, so law enforcement officials are only allowed to stop a driver for texting if that driver commits another ‘primary’ driving offense – like speeding.  Other reason drivers disregard the ban on texting may be that the fines imposed are too lenient.  For instance, a first time texting offender in Florida receives a mere $30 fine.

What other legal measures can be taken to curb distracted driving?

Legal alternatives to minimize distracted driving are being explored.  A recent story in THELAW.TV discusses two such alternatives:

1. Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are awarded in civil matters and are meant as a punishment and deterrent aimed at the wrongdoer – the defendant.  Punitive damage amounts, if awarded, are typically in addition to and above and beyond the dollar amount issued to compensate the one harmed – the plaintiff.  Recently, courts in Florida held that punitive damages could be awarded when distracted driving is involved.  A court in Pennsylvania, however, decided that a driver that used his phone’s GPS system and ultimately crashed, cannot be sued for punitive damages unless the plaintiff can show that the driver was “completely distracted” by looking at his phone.

2. Auto Manufacturer Liability

Perhaps the auto industry should take some blame for all the distracting gadgets loaded on today’s vehicles?  Technology that disengages these gadgets which allows one to text, use the internet and social networking sites while driving, does exist.  However, there are no requirements in the auto industry that demand these restrictions. Therefore, at this time, auto manufacturers are unlikely to be held liable for distracted driving.

A third legal alternative that is evolving, involves texting and driving:

3. Text Message Sender Liability

A New Jersey Court held that individuals who send text messages to drivers may be held accountable for accidents if a) the person who sent the message knew that the person who received the message was driving and b) that the person who sent the text message knew that the person who received the text message was likely to read the text while driving.

Accident Lawyers

While it is important that drivers limit distractions to avoid potential accidents – unfortunately, the risk of accidents still exists on our roadways.  If you have suffered a personal injury from a car accident caused by a distracted driver, contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your potential case.

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