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.

Are There Any Legal Consequences of Distracted Driving?

Depending on the laws of a particular state and the circumstances of a specific case, there are several legal consequences that a driver may face for distracted driving. These legal consequences can include:

  • Monetary fines: The amount of fines will vary by state law and the facts of a case. These are separate from damages, which the defendant will also be liable for if they are sued in a civil court and the plaintiff is successful. 
  • Misdemeanor charges: Note this only applies to first-time offenders in states whose statutes classify distracted driving as a misdemeanor offense. Being convicted of a misdemeanor can lead to fines and jail time for no longer than one year.
  • Felony charges: If the distracted driving incident caused severe bodily harm or death to a driver, or occurred in a state that charges distracted driving as a misdemeanor offense, it could become a felony if the driver is a repeat-offender. Being convicted of a felony can lead to heavy fines and a prison sentence for a year or longer.
  • Various other consequences: Other consequences of distracted driving may include suspension or revocation of one’s driving privileges, points on a driver’s license or record, increased auto insurance rates, and vehicle impoundment. A court may also order a driver to take mandatory road safety classes.

What Damages Can I Get If I’ve Been Injured by a Negligent or Distracted Driver?

Generally speaking, compensatory damages are the most common form of damages awarded to a plaintiff who has been injured by a negligent or distracted driver. These types of damages are meant to reimburse the plaintiff for any costs they were forced to pay out of pocket due to their injuries, such as medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and so forth.

In some rare and extreme cases, the court may also order a distracted driver to pay punitive damages. Punitive damages are used to punish and deter a driver from committing the same unlawful acts again in the future. 

For example, if a distracted driver has already been in trouble with the law once for texting while driving and does it a second time, then the court may tack on punitive damages in addition to the compensatory damages award. This is to punish them for not learning their lesson the first time around and to hopefully prevent them from doing it a third time.

Are There any Special Distracted Driving Laws in the Northern Virginia Area?

Distracted driving laws in the Northern Virginia area include:

  • A ban on hand-held cell phone usage (passed, but does not go into effect until January 1, 2021). 
  • No use of handheld cell phones in work zones;
  • No reading, writing, or sending text messages or emails; and
  • All drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using cell phones in any capacity, including hands-free mode.

However, there are some exceptions to these bans, such as:

  • A driver may use voice command on a phone for GPS purposes or to play music;
  • A driver under the age of 18 is permitted to use their phone in an emergency; and
  • Drivers with specific job titles will be allowed to use their phone in a work capacity if they are law enforcement, firefighters, ambulance drivers, and so forth.

How Do I File a Distracted Driving Lawsuit in Northern Virginia?

If a person has been injured in a distracted driving accident in Northern Virginia and does not wish to settle with the insurance company, then they should contact a Northern Virginia attorney for further legal advice. The local attorney will be able to apprise the victim of specific distracted driving laws in Northern Virginia, can tell them if they have a supportable claim, and can help them prepare their case.

Generally speaking, after a person is injured in a distracted driving accident, the first and most important step to take is to make sure that they collect any evidence associated with the incident. This can include police reports, medical bills, photos of their injury and/or accident, contact information of any witnesses, and anything else that they think might be useful to prove that the other driver was in fact distracted.

Once they have gathered this initial evidence, they can either consult a local personal injury attorney or visit the Virginia Judicial System Court Self-Help website to handle the case pro se. This choice will be left up to the injured party, but it is generally recommended that they contact an attorney; especially, if serious harm was done.

Whether they represent themselves pro se or hire an attorney, a complaint must be filed in order to initiate a lawsuit. From this point forward, what happens next will depend on the facts of the case and how the defendant responds to the complaint. 

What are Some Defenses for Negligent or Distracted Driving?

Some defenses to a negligent or distracted driving claim include:

  • Lack of proof or fault;
  • Contributory or modified comparative negligence;
  • Statute of limitations; 
  • Failure to mitigate damages; and/or
  • Special circumstances (e.g., emergency situations). 

Should I Hire a Northern Virginia for Help with My Case?

Distracted driving cases can be fairly complicated to navigate without the help of an attorney. Therefore, if you have suffered injuries as a result of a distracted driving accident, then it may be in your best interest to contact a local personal injury lawyer for further assistance with your case.

A Northern Virginia attorney will be familiar with the most current distracted driving laws in your area, and can use them to determine whether you have a viable claim. Your attorney can also help you file your case, provide representation in court, and ensure that you receive the best possible outcome based on the facts of your case.