It often seems harmless enough just to sneak a peek at a cell phone while driving. However, laws have been written precisely to deter this kind of behavior, and distracted driving is an issue of increasing importance as more and more people use mobile devices each day.
The label “distracted driving” refers to any activities that keep drivers from paying full attention to the operation of the vehicle and the road. Anything that takes a driver’s eyes or mind off of the act of driving counts as a distraction. Today, cell phone use represents the majority of distracted driving violations.
Cell Phones and Driving
In some states, technological distractions are covered by general distracted driving laws, while other states have enacted strict laws that forbid the use of a mobile phone without a hands-free device. Some go even further and ban hands-free devices as well, at least for certain classes of drivers. Many states have also banned texting, including web browsing, emailing, and using smart phone apps. In Pennsylvania more than 1,0000 citations were issued since March 8, 2012, when the new texting while driving law went into effect, according to a state police report. During this same time period, PennDOT reported that the number of car accidents increased. Pennsylvania police say the law is very difficult to enforce. One reason for this is that drivers are still permitted to make calls on handheld mobile phones.
With the ban on texting in place, Pennsylvania legislature has introduce at least two bills seek which would ban cell phone use. Another proposed law would allow cities the option of making their own cell phone laws.
Enforcement of these distracted driving laws varies as well. In most states, they’ve designated them as primary enforcement laws, which make it permissible for an officer to pull someone over for the distracted driving alone. Secondary enforcement laws only allow citations for violating the distracted driving law if the driver was first pulled over for another violation.
While drivers can now be ticketed for texting while driving, the consequences can extend to far worse situations. If the driver causes an accident while texting or talking on the phone the charge could be bumped up to negligence or recklessness. Even if the accident was caused by someone else, the driver’s use of the cell phone could represent “contributory” or “comparative” negligence, meaning that the distraction didn’t help avoid the collision. In some cases, that negligent behavior could prevent the accident victim from receiving compensation for his or her injuries.
Proof of negligence is actually much easier now with the accessibility of electronic evidence from cell phone records. Records of cell phone usage are permissible in court as evidence, and they can be matched with the time of an accident, indicating that the driver was on using a cell phone when the accident occurred. If the driver was sending text messages or talking at the time of an accident, he or she inadvertently left a trail of electronic evidence that can be used to prove negligence.
Stuart A. Carpey, who has been practicing as an attorney since 1987, focuses his practice on complex civil litigation which includes representing injured individuals in a vast array of personal injury cases.