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The Legal Ramifications of Distracted Driving: Understanding the Consequences

At HHJ Trial Attorneys, we understand that distracted driving is a serious problem. It affects millions of drivers daily, leading to many accidents and fatalities. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving claimed 3,142 lives in 2019 alone.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Office of Traffic Safety in 2021, the majority of Californians, precisely 74.3%, reported that distracted driving was their primary concern regarding traffic safety.

The term “distracted driving” refers to any activity that diverts a driver’s attention away from the road, including texting, talking on a cell phone, eating, applying makeup, and more.

These distractions can cause drivers to slow reaction times, miss essential visual and auditory cues, and even impair judgment. In addition to the risks to public safety, distracted driving can have significant legal implications for the driver who causes an accident.

In this blog post, our San Diego car accident attorneys will discuss California’s distracted driving laws, the legal implications of distracted driving accidents, and more.

The Different Types of Distracted Driving

Distracted driving can be categorized into three main types: visual, manual, and cognitive distractions.

  • Visual distractions occur when drivers take their eyes off the road, such as glancing at their phone, GPS, or a billboard.
  • Manual distractions happen when drivers take their hands off the wheel, such as reaching for an object or adjusting the car’s controls.
  • Cognitive distractions occur when drivers take their minds off driving, such as engaging in a phone conversation or daydreaming while behind the wheel.

The Legal Consequences of Distracted Driving Accidents

When a distracted driver causes a car accident, they can face criminal and civil charges. Criminal charges can range from reckless driving to vehicular manslaughter, depending on the severity of the accident and the state’s laws.

Civil lawsuits can be filed by victims or their families seeking compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages. In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded to punish the driver for their reckless behavior.

Penalties and Fines for Distracted Driving Accidents

In addition to criminal and civil charges, distracted drivers may face various penalties and fines. The specific consequences vary but typically include fines, license suspension, and even jail time.

In 2019, California implemented Assembly Bill 47, which increased fines for first-time distracted driving offenses. Effective July 1, 2021, the minimum penalty for a first offense is $162, which can be subject to additional assessments and fees based on the location of the citation.

Furthermore, if you received a citation for distracted driving in the past 36 months, the California DMV will assign a point to your driving record, which can lead to insurance rate increases. Attending a California state-approved traffic school may be necessary to remove the issue from your record.

It’s important to note that the use of hands-free devices is permitted only for those above the age of 18. Drivers in California 18 and younger cannot even use their mobile devices hands-free.

Factors Affecting Liability in Distracted Driving Accidents

When a distracted driver causes an accident, liability depends on several factors, including negligence, contributory, comparative, and proximate causes.

Negligence is a failure to exercise reasonable care that harms another person. Contributory negligence occurs when the victim’s actions contribute to the accident.

Comparative negligence compares the negligence of the victim to that of the defendant. Proximate cause is the legal cause of the accident or the action or inaction that directly caused the accident.

Legal Defenses in Distracted Driving Cases

Legal defenses in distracted driving cases may include comparative fault, assumption of risk, and implied consent.

Comparative fault is when the victim is partially responsible for the accident, reducing the liability of the distracted driver.

Assumption of risk is when the victim knowingly engages in an activity that could result in harm, such as getting into a car with a compromised driver who will be distracted.

Implied consent is when the victim implicitly consents to the risk of harm by participating in an activity, such as getting into a car with a driver using their phone or is under the influence of alcohol.

Working with an experienced car accident attorney is vital to ensure the best outcome for your situation.

Tips for Avoiding Distracted Driving Accidents

The best way to avoid the legal implications of distracted driving accidents is to avoid all distractions while driving.

Drivers should put away electronic devices, eat and drink before getting behind the wheel, and pull over to a safe location if it is necessary to engage in any distracting activity. Additionally, drivers should be aware of their surroundings, keep a safe following distance, and obey all traffic laws.

If a driver must make a phone call or send a text message, they should use hands-free devices or pull over to a safe location before doing so.

By taking these precautions, drivers can reduce their risk of causing a distracted driving accident and facing the resulting legal consequences.

Facing a Distracted Driving Case? Get the Legal Help You Need From Our Experienced Attorneys at HHJ

Distracted driving is a dangerous behavior that puts the lives of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians at risk. When a distracted driver causes an accident, they may face criminal and civil charges, fines, penalties, and increased insurance premiums.

To avoid the legal implications of distracted driving accidents, drivers should avoid all distractions while driving, be aware of their surroundings, and obey all traffic laws. By taking these precautions, drivers can help make the roads safer.

If you’re facing a distracted driving case, contact us today to ensure you fully understand your rights and the next steps.

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