Distracted Driving Laws

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What Is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is defined as performing any type of activity while driving that could cause divert the driver from the main task of operating the automobile safely. Driving while distracted can often lead to accidents and injuries.  

Some common forms of distracted driving are:

  • Using a cell phone for calls, texting, e-mail, or other functions
  • Rubbernecking (viewing accidents or other objects outside the car)
  • Interacting with a passenger
  • Grooming (i.e., shaving, applying makeup)
  • Reaching for objects in the car
  • Eating or drinking
  • Adjusting seats, mirrors, or radios
  • Writing or reading directions or looking at a map

What Are the Laws on Distracted Driving?

Almost all states have enacted laws covering the general umbrella term of distracted driving. Distracted driving laws may vary from state to state, and some jurisdictions have enacted bans while others focus more on punishments. Many states have different names for the offense such as “inattentive driving”, but they all embrace the same concept.

Most distracted driving statutes make it illegal to perform acts while driving which are: (1) not necessary for operating a motor vehicle; and (2) impair a driver’s ability to maneuver safely on the road.

Currently the majority of distracted driving laws focus heavily on cell phone use laws and texting while driving laws

What Are the Punishments for Distracted Driving?

Punishments for distracted driving also vary greatly. In most cases they are a traffic offense or moving violation, punishable by a range of monetary fines. In some states such as Idaho, distracted driving is a criminal misdemeanor. Repeat offenses can lead to jail time or even prison time, especially if serious injury or property damage has resulted. 

Legally speaking, distracted driving might constitute grounds for other legal theories such as recklessness or negligence. Additionally, if the distracted driver was the victim in a car accident, their own negligence may result in a decrease in the amount of damages they are allowed to receive. Reduced damages awards are covered under contributory or comparative negligence rules. That is, if the driver contributed to their own injury due to distracted driving, it can sometimes prevent them from obtaining full compensation for losses.

What Can I Do to Avoid Distracted Driving?

The most important point in driver safety is to prepare your trip beforehand so that you are not performing unnecessary tasks while driving. Here are a few things you can do before driving that can minimize distracted driving:

  • Write out directions and instructions
  • Program any programmable devices such as GPS systems before you start moving
  • Adjust seats, mirrors, safety belts, and radio settings
  • Place cell phones on silent or vibrate so that you are not startled by incoming calls or text messages. Do not use your phone while driving
  • If you are not physically or emotionally in a state suitable for driving, wait until you are ready to drive

Finally, always remember that you can always pull over safely or exit the highway if you need to address a situation that arises while driving. It is much better to be safe rather than face possible legal consequences for driving while distracted.

Do I Need 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 an experienced attorney can be of great benefit if you are involved in distracted driving charges.

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Last Modified: 01-21-2014 10:26 AM PST

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