The use of smartphones while driving is the number one cause of drivers being distracted while driving their motor vehicles. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, distracted driving kills roughly nine individuals every day in the United States.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of ways individuals use their cell phones which distracts them while driving:
- Talking on your cell phone while driving, even if it is on speakerphone;
- Texting while driving;
- Reaching for your phone;
- Checking your GPS;
- Taking a photo or selfie;
- Checking your email; or
- Browsing the internet.
Using your smartphone while driving puts yourself and other drivers on the road in jeopardy.
What Are Some Cell Phone Laws?
With the prevalence of cell phones, many states have enacted regulations related to cell phone usage while driving. Some states authorize drivers to use their cell phone so long as it is hands-free (speaker/Bluetooth). Other states outlaw all cell phone use while driving, even with hands-free devices, by certain classes of drivers, such as drivers under the age of 18.
Many states also have regulations that restrict driving while texting. Generally, these regulations also forbid other gadgets that could seriously distract the driver, such as emailing, web browsing, using smartphone apps, playing cell phone games, etc.
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Why Should You Ignore Your Phone While Driving?
We have become more and more dependent on our smartphones and mobile electronic devices in our current lives. Our phones, specifically, have become so ingrained in our everyday lives that it may become challenging to unplug and focus on other tasks—such as driving.
We may be tempted to respond to texts and emails while we travel from Point A to Point B, primarily since it has become second nature to many of us to respond promptly. Unfortunately, for all the advantages that we enjoy from technology, distracted driving can be a real danger, and many states have taken action to discourage cell phone use while driving.
What Counts as “Texting And Driving”?
Texting and driving are just one of the various behaviors that fall under the umbrella of “distracted driving,” including actions such as reading emails, applying makeup, using Snapchat or Facebook, or even eating while driving. If you are engaging in behavior that draws your concentration away from the road, you may be driving distracted even if you think you are in control.
While distracted driving by itself may not be criminal (depending on the state you live in), it can lead to illegal driving behavior—like reckless driving, running stop lights, and other driving violations. This can get you into trouble with the law, but it can also put you and other individuals in danger. When in doubt, it is better to put the phone down and wait until you get to your destination to read and send texts.
Does Every State Have a Texting And Driving Law?
Today, almost every state has rules strictly outlawing texting while driving, and those who don’t often consider it a distracted driving offense. States that once allowed texting while driving has since cracked down on distracted driving.
Many states also prohibit talking on the phone while driving unless using a hands-free device. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) prohibits all commercial drivers from using hand-held mobile devices if they are commercial drivers.
Many states have clear rules regarding cell phone use for beginning drivers (like those with learner’s permits or probationary licenses) or young drivers (under 18). Usually, these regulations forbid these drivers from using any cell phone or electronic device while driving, even if they have hands-free technology.
Some states also have regulations restricting school bus drivers from using cell phones while driving with passengers.
While most states have regulations about cell phone use while driving, many states also have exceptions that authorize you to use your cell phone to call emergency services. Nevertheless, these exceptions do not extend to text messages.
If you are unsure which rules apply in your state, you may want to consult an attorney for clarification.
For Texting and Driving Laws, Check Your Local Ordinances
States are not the only entities that have regulations regarding texting and driving. Some cities and towns may also have local ordinances on cell phone use while driving. While these laws and ordinances often may work hand in hand, in other cases, the local ordinances are the main rules regarding texting and driving.
For instance, Montana is one of the few states that does not have a statewide law regarding texting while driving—but many municipalities across the state have bans on hand-held cell phone use while driving.
What Are the Consequences of Texting And Driving?
The consequences for texting while driving differ from state to state and may depend upon the severity of the offense or whether you have prior offenses. Normally, punishments for texting while driving can include the following:
- Monetary fines (which can range from as low as $20 to thousands of dollars depending on what state you’re in);
- Criminal charges (usually misdemeanor charges); or
- Jail time (which is more likely if an accident happens as a result of texting while driving or if the offense results in injury to another driver)
What If a Driver Using a Smartphone Injures Another Driver?
A defendant caught using a smartphone while driving can face criminal charges depending on the state where they reside. As each state has different regulations concerning cell phone laws, the punishment depends on the state where the accident happens.
Even if the driver gets into an accident and hurts a plaintiff in a state which does not restrict the use of smartphones while driving, they can still face liability for negligently inflicted injuries on another.
What Should I Do if I’m Injured by a Driver Using a Smartphone?
If you’re involved in a car accident caused by a driver using a smartphone, you first need to make sure you and your passengers are unhurt. If you are hurt, go to the hospital immediately. If you’re not injured and no one has notified the police yet of the accident, call the police and give them an official statement.
Be sure to mention that the driver used their cell phone during the incident. Ask any witnesses to state the police as well. Finally, call your insurance company and let them know about the accident when you’re able.
How Can a Plaintiff Recover Damages?
To successfully use negligence in a tort action, the plaintiff must demonstrate:
- The defendant had a duty of care;
- The duty of care was breached; and
- The plaintiff was injured as a result.
A negligence tort for a smartphone car accident must establish these three elements for the plaintiff to recover damages. Drivers have a duty of care to care for other drivers, and if using a smartphone while driving is against the law in the state where the accident happens, the plaintiff may be able to claim that the duty of care was breached.
Should I Consult an Attorney If I’m Injured by a Driver Using a Smartphone?
Personal injury attorneys and automobile accident attorneys are essential to winning car accident lawsuits. This is a highly complex area of the law, mainly if the defendants include car manufacturers, parts manufacturers, mechanical servicers, or parties other than the driver at the time of the accident.
Hiring a car accident attorney is essential if your injuries are serious. The more money needed to compensate for damages, the more critical it is to have adequate representation during settlement negotiations and trials.