Distracted Driving Laws

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 What are Smartphones?

Smartphones are cellular devices which combine the functions of mobile phones with those of personal digital assistants (PDAs). Most smartphones have advanced features that may help them perform similar tasks to those completed on desktop computers.

Two of the most common types of smartphones include Android and iPhone. One of the main features of smartphones is their ability to connect to the internet.

This means that smartphone users may be able to browse the internet directly from their smartphone. Smartphones are also equipped with cameras, which allow users to take photos as well as record videos with the devices.

Although smartphones can be very helpful and useful, they may also present safety risks if they are used while an individual is driving. Because of the numerous functions that smartphones are able to perform, a driver may easily become distracted if they use a smartphone while they are driving.

Using a smartphone while driving may lead to an increased chance of an automobile accident. In addition, it may lead to an increase in driving violations.

What is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving means an individual is distracted while they are driving as a result of any activity which may cause the driver to divert their attention from the most important aspect of driving, the actual operation of the vehicle. The Department of Motor Vehicles indicates that distracted driving kills approximately 9 individuals each day in the United States.

There are numerous ways in which a driver may become distracted, including:

  • Talking on a cell phone while driving;
  • Texting while driving;
  • Reaching for the phone;
  • Changing the radio station;
  • Checking the GPS;
  • Taking a photo or selfie;
  • Checking email;
  • Talking to a passenger;
  • Applying make-up; and
  • Eating or drinking.

Any task or activity which causes a driver to look away from the roadway and to not pay attention to their surroundings is an activity which creates distracted driving.

Read more about these issues in the following LegalMatch articles:

Is it Illegal to Use a Smartphone while Driving?

There are numerous states which do not have laws that specifically address smartphone use while driving. There are, however, around 40 states which have enacted distracted driving laws.

Laws governing distracted driving make engaging in any form of distraction while driving illegal, including rubbernecking and the use of cell phones. Although most distracted driving laws address texting while driving, it can be presumed that distracted driving laws also prohibit the use of a smartphone while driving.

Utilizing a smartphone while driving may be just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, as texting while driving. Individuals may be cited for distracted driving if they use their smartphone for numerous activities while driving, including:

  • Texting;
  • Chatting;
  • Reading or writing e-mails;
  • Surfing the internet;
  • Engaging in a phone call without using a headset;
  • Taking videos or photographs;
  • Watching videos or viewing photographs; and
  • Entering in a GPS route while driving.

Any activity that involves using a smartphone that reduces the ability of the driver to concentrate on the road may be considered a violation. It is usually considered acceptable to listen to a music playlist or to use an audio-guided GPS program through a smartphone, so long as the driver programs such features into the vehicle before they begin driving.

What are the Distracted Driving Laws?

The laws governing traffic vary by state. However, most states have enacted distracted driving laws. Many newly enacted laws prohibit driving while using a cell phone or driving while texting.

There are also some states which prohibit more old-fashioned types of distracted driving, which may include driving while shaving or driving while applying make-up. There are other states which have broad statutes that define distracted driving as engaging in an activity while operating a motor vehicle which is not necessary to operating that motor vehicle and imapris, or would reasonably be expected to impair, the ability of the driver to safely operate the motor vehicle.

What are Some Cell Phone Laws?

Due to the prevalence of cell phone usage, there are many states that have enacted laws which relate to the use of cellular phones while driving. There are some states that allow drivers to use their cellular phones so long as they are set to hands-free mode, such as with bluetooth or speakers.

There are other states which forbid all cell phone usage, even with hands-free settings by certain categories of drivers, including those under the age of 18. In addition, many states have laws which prohibit driving while texting.

These types of laws also prohibit the use of other electronic devices which may significantly distract a driver, which may include:

  • Emailing;
  • Web browsing;
  • Using apps;
  • Playing games; and
  • Other activities.

What is Texting While Driving?

Texting while driving can include doing any of the following activities related to text messages while operating a motor vehicle, including:

  • Reading;
  • Viewing;
  • Writing; or
  • Sending.

Texting while driving is categorized as a traffic moving violation. In some jurisdictions, it may be classified as a criminal misdemeanor.

Studies demonstrate that texting while driving increases an individual’s risk of being involved in an automobile accident from between 2.8 to 23.2 times that of the normal risk. The laws which prohibit texting while driving are aimed at deterring, or preventing, the behavior, instead of recovering losses for injured parties.

What are the Penalties for Distracted Driving?

The punishment for distracted driving is dictated by each state. The majority of distracted driving cases are considered to be traffic offenses that are punishable by:

  • Monetary criminal fines;
  • Incarceration; or
  • A combination of both.

There are also some states which impose stricter penalties. In Alaska, for example, the penalty for texting while driving may be up to 1 year in prison and up to a $10,000 criminal fine, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.

Alaska is one of the states that imposes the harshest penalties for texting while driving. Idaho classified distracted driving as a criminal misdemeanor.

Most smartphone violations may be classified under the distracted driving laws. Violations of distracted driving laws or texting while driving laws will vary by state.

The legal consequences an individual may face for violating a distracted driving law or a texting while driving law may include:

  • Traffic tickets;
  • Small monetary fines;
  • Criminal penalties, which may include jail time; and
  • Other consequences, for example, having an individual’s license or driving privileges suspended, or having to attend traffic classes.

The legal consequences for distracted driving may also increase if an individual has repeat offenses. Additionally, if the violation causes serious injury to another individual, the punishment may be more severe and may include higher fines or longer period of jail time.

Can Distracted Drivers Face Additional Liability?

Yes, a distracted driver is more likely to get into an accident and cause injury, which is more likely to lead to a lawsuit. A distracted driver may be sued for negligence or recklessness and may be required to pay damages and attorney’s fees.

Should I Speak to a Lawyer for Distracted Driving?

There are many cases of distracted driving charges which may be handled in traffic court or online. If, however, the offense involves serious injury or property damages, it may be helpful to consult a lawyer for advice.

If you are facing a distracted driving charge, it may be classified as a criminal misdemeanor, depending on your jurisdiction. An experienced traffic violation attorney will represent you in court and may be able to negotiate for a reduced sentence or even dropped charges. The best advice is simply to avoid using your cellular device while driving.


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