Whether you can legally use a cell phone while driving largely depends on where you reside. While there is no federal ban against using your cell phone while driving, there are 13 states which ban hand-held cell phone use. Additionally, although no state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, 38 states ban cell phone use by new drivers. And, 20 states ban cell phone use by school bus drivers.
In terms of cell phone use while driving laws, Arkansas does not ban all hand-held cell phone usage, but does ban new drivers from using their phones. Tennessee only bans drivers in marked school zones, while Texas bans drivers from using hand-held phones in school crossing zones.
Text messaging while driving is specifically banned more commonly than cell phone use while driving in general. 47 states as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam ban text messaging for all drivers, regardless of their age or skill level. Of the 3 states that allow text messaging while driving, 2 of them prohibit text messaging from new drivers.
Nearly 330,000 yearly injuries are associated with accidents caused by texting while driving. One out of every four car accidents in the United States is caused by texting while driving. This is why forty-seven states ban texting while driving. However, the following states do not ban texting while driving:
- Arizona, which only bans cell phone use by young drivers;
- Missouri, which only bans drivers from texting while driving if they are 21 years or younger; and
Who Can Be Held Liable For A Car Accident Caused By Cell Phone Usage?
In general, drivers who break the law and cause a car accident are held liable for their actions. In response, many more states are enacting considerably strict laws governing the use of cell phones while driving. Because of this, if a motorist is using their cell phone while driving and causes an accident, it is likely that they will be held responsible in a criminal court of law.
The victim of the car accident may also take the liable driver to civil court in order to sue for damages resulting from the accident. Similar to cell phone use laws, liability for a car accident caused by cell phone usage will vary between states.
When a driver causes an accident, it is generally a result of careless driving, meaning that they were being negligent. Negligence is a legal theory asserting that an individual behaved in a careless or thoughtless manner when compared to someone else under specific circumstances, and that this behavior resulted in injury or harm to another person.
The liability of a driver who was not using a cell phone and caused an accident may be less than that of a driver who caused an accident while using their phone. In a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff is responsible for proving that the defendant acted negligently. Cell phone records may be presented in court as evidence of negligence, and if found liable, the negligent driver could be forced to pay a monetary damages award to the injured party. In criminal court, the defendant could face considerable fines and other serious penalties, such as incarceration.
The specific criminal penalties associated with car accidents caused by cell phone use depend on your state’s laws, as well as what exactly happened while you were using your cell phone. If you were simply caught using your cell phone while driving, which includes texting, you will most likely face a traffic violation. However, if you were using your phone and hit another car, or you hit a pedestrian, you can face considerably more serious charges.
Can Employers Be Held Responsible For Their Employee’s Cell Phone Use While Driving?
Not only can a negligent driver be held responsible for cell phone usage while driving, but so can their employer under the legal theory of vicarious liability. Employees who cause an accident while on a work-related phone call can put their employer in jeopardy of a lawsuit. Additionally, employers can be held liable for car accidents that are caused by employees who were reading or sending work-related texts and/or emails.
Because it is more likely to receive a suitable damages award from an employer than the employee, it is not uncommon for plaintiffs to name the employer as a defendant in a civil lawsuit. In response, more employers have prohibited employees from using their phones and other devices while driving. Additionally, because having an employee involved in a car accident who disobeyed a no-cell phone policy can result in severe consequences, breaking this rule has been grounds for termination.
Depending on your specific employment contract, it is also possible that as a violating employee, you can be held financially responsible for the damage to the employer’s property. An example of this would be if the car accident that was caused by cell phone use took place in a company car.
Can Parents Be Held Responsible For Their Children Using Cell Phones While Driving?
Parental liability for accidents that their children cause is a constantly evolving legal issue. An example of this would be how in California, parents must sign a consent form that allows their child under the age of 18 to drive. The state also holds the parents responsible for any accidents that their children cause.
Each state has its own laws regarding car accidents caused by cell phone use when the driver was a child, and they will clarify how much liability parents can face depending on the circumstances of the accident. Under some circumstances, if the child was sent on an errand for the parent or household, it is likely that the parent can be held responsible. An example of this would be if they were getting groceries, or were taking a sibling to school.
What Are Some Other Consequences For Car Accidents Caused By Cell Phone Use?
In terms of other consequences, those who cause an accident due to cell phone use will likely face consequences from their insurance company, as distracted driving is taken seriously by insurance companies. What this means is that anyone who has caused an accident while using their cell phone, or who has been ticketed for texting or talking while driving, could have their insurance premiums increased. Additionally, if you have been found at fault for a car accident, you may have excessive points on your driver’s license. In response, your insurance will reflect your driving behavior.
When insurance companies have evaluated the risk of distracted driving, an average increase of 16 percent in the insurance policies of those ticketed has been noted. This increase is considerably less than compared to other violations, but in order to minimize the cost of insurance, distracted driving should be avoided.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Car Accidents Caused By Cell Phone Use?
If you were injured in a car accident that was caused by cell phone use, you should contact a car accident lawyer. However, if you were the driver and are being accused of using your phone while the accident occurred, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Your lawyer can help you determine your legal rights and options under your state’s specific laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.