Distracted driving is responsible for numerous deaths and injuries each year. The law describes “distracted driving” as any action that takes a driver’s mind or eyes off the road or a driver’s hands off the steering wheel. This could be any act, including using a cellphone, eating, or applying makeup while driving. There are numerous California laws and regulations, including Vehicle Code Sections 23123 to 23125, that drivers should know. If you have suffered injuries because of the negligence of a distracted driver in Las Vegas, NV, we invite you to contact Dallas Horton & Associates. Let us make the difference in your case and ensure you recover damages that cover medical expenses, property damage, pain and suffering, and more.
When driving, using a cellphone is already dangerous enough without considering modern-day vehicles rife with attractive, tech-forward distractions. From GPS maps to radio and access to the internet, modern cars have a range of tempting distractions that could steal a driver’s attention away from the road. Unfortunately, it just takes a minute for a distracted driver to cause a life-changing accident. We can provide creative solutions on the negotiating table or in court to increase your chances of receiving fair compensation.
Distracted Driving Defined
California’s distracted driving laws mainly focus on accidents caused by a driver distracted by a cell phone. The law describes “distracted driving” as any action that takes your mind or eyes off the road or forces you to take your hands off your steering wheel.
The three main types of distractions include:
- Visual distractions — Anything that takes your eyes off the road
- Manual distractions — Anything that takes your hands off your steering wheel
- Cognitive distractions — Anything that takes your mental focus off the road
It remains imperative to understand that some distractions are not illegal. For instance, it is perfectly legal to eat your burger when driving to work or even tune your radio to listen to a radio station that gets you in the right mood for the day. However, you could still face charges if a “legal distraction” leads to a collision or leads you to commit a violation like overspeeding or reckless driving.
Before you shift your visual, manual, or cognitive attention off the road, it is crucial to know you have a legal responsibility to avoid distractions while driving. Failure to do so implies that you disregard the lives and safety of other road users, including drivers and pedestrians. In any case, you have a case to answer if your actions pose a safety hazard for other road users.
Distracted Driving Accident Statistics
With the dawn of the digital era, we have experienced a steep increase in the number of accidents caused by distracted driving. This has resulted in numerous states enacting laws to curb the use of phones when behind the wheel. Unfortunately, these laws have not ensured drivers keep their eyes and focus on the road. Today’s situation is worse because modern vehicles contain attractive distractions such as GPS graphics, weather systems, and infotainment systems.
A report by the (NHTSA) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that in 2017 alone, 3,166 people lost their lives due to distracted driving. This resulted in new California laws, including legislation that increased the fine for distracted driving. In 2019 alone, distracted driving claimed the lives of 2,895 people. This is approximately 9% of all fatal crashes experienced nationwide.
Distracted Driving Laws & Regulations
Because of the sobering numbers of deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving, legislators banned the use of cellphones or other gadgets to text while driving in all states across the U.S.
Here are some of the laws and regulations related to distracted driving that apply within California:
Vehicle Code Section 23123
Under Vehicle Code 23123 VC, it is an infraction to operate a car while using a phone unless it is configured to a hands-free talking or listening mode and is used in the same manner. Note that the law mentioned above only applies to adults. Under Vehicle Code 23124, it is a violation for persons below 18 to use a cellphone or other handheld device while driving. This is irrespective of whether they are on hands-free mode or not.
Moreover, it should be noted that there are exceptions to VC Section 23123. This law does not apply to the following people:
- A driver using a wireless phone for an emergency, like contacting a medical practitioner, the police, fire department, or other entities that offer emergency services
- School bus and transit vehicle drivers
- Persons driving on private property
Violating Vehicle Code 23123 is an infraction punishable by:
- A fine ranging from $20 to $50
Apart from the imposed fine, a defendant must also foot the court and assessment costs. It is important to note that even though the violation is a mere infraction, the failure to appear in court to respond to a ticket violates Vehicle Code 40508 VC. An FTA (failure to appear) is a criminal offense that attracts a steeper penalty.
Violating Vehicle Code 40508 VC is a misdemeanor that attracts the following punishment:
- Imprisonment in county jail for up to 6 months
- A fine not exceeding $ 1,000
Vehicle Code Section 23123.5
Under Vehicle Code Section 23123.5, it is a violation to drive while holding a handheld phone or electronic unless it is configured to a hands-free, voice-operated mode and used in the same manner. Electronics include but are not limited to communication devices, laptops, pagers, and two-way messaging devices. Note that it is an offense to hold any of these devices, even with one hand.
This vehicle code has the following exceptions:
- Manufacturer-installed systems affixed in the car’s center console or dashboard
- Emergency service specialists on-duty driving authorized emergency vehicles
It remains imperative to understand that the hands-free, voice-operated devices exempted in Vehicle Code 23123.5 only include those that allow operation with a single swipe motion or tap of the finger.
Violating Vehicle Code 23123.5 is an infraction that attracts the following fine:
- First offense — $20
- Subsequent offenses $50
Even though the above fines seem minimal, you will likely incur more substantial expenses once you encompass court and assessment fees. Note that these are base fines, meaning the figures are bound to increase by the time a case is over. For the first violation, the total amount required often exceeds $150. You can expect to spend a little over $250 for subsequent offenses.
Vehicle Code Section 23124
Vehicle Code 23124 makes it an offense for minors (under 18) to use cell phones and electronic communication devices while behind the wheel. The only exception to this fundamental law is if a minor uses a mobile or wireless device to make an emergency call to the police, fire department, medical provider, or other emergency service entity.
Violating Vehicle Code Section 23124 is also an infraction. Unlike other violations targeted at adults, this offense attracts two penalties. They include:
- A fine ($20 for the 1st offense and $ 50 for subsequent offenses)
- Points on a minor’s driving record
Extra points on your driving record can affect your auto insurance rates for several years. Moreover, accumulating too many points within three years could force the DMV to deem you a negligent operator and suspend or revoke your driving privileges.
Vehicle Code Section 23125
Under VC 23125, it is an offense to drive a transit vehicle or school bus while using a wireless phone. Again, this law has exceptions that only apply in particular situations. For instance, it is perfectly legal to use a wireless telephone for work-related reasons or emergency purposes.
If you receive a ticket for violating VC 23125, the fine imposed is as follows:
- $20 for the first offense
- $50 for subsequent offenses
New California Driving Laws Following Assembly Bill 47
Starting July 1, 2021, California implemented Assembly Bill 47. The new law imposes an extra penalty on drivers who violate the existing hands-free laws. Under AB 47, the new fine for the first offense is $165. Drivers caught operating vehicles with handheld wireless phones must also incur court and assessment fees set by their city or county. Moreover, they will receive points on their driving records that last for a minimum of 36 months.
Distracted driving and the use of cellphones when behind the wheel in specific remain a leading cause of accidents that result in severe injuries and death. Hopefully, the new law will further dissuade drivers from taking their focus and eyes off the road. Apart from the higher fine, an extra point can drastically increase auto insurance rates. Drivers have to attend state-approved traffic schools to remove the points from their records.
Drivers must understand that California uses primary and secondary enforcement of the state’s distracted driving laws. Primary enforcement implies that a law enforcement officer can pull you over if there is probable cause to believe you are violating distracted driving laws. On the other hand, secondary enforcement implies the police have the power to cite you for breaking distracted driving laws if they notice distracted driving while pulling you over for a different driving offense.
Often, the police use primary enforcement when bringing distracted drivers to book. This means that the authorities can pull you over and issue a ticket even if you are completely in control of your vehicle. The only exception is drivers under 18 years. The police can only use secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws when dealing with minors. The law prohibits them from pulling minors over and citing them for distracted driving unless they commit other driving offenses like reckless driving or running a stop sign.
How Comparative Fault Affects a Distracted Driving Lawsuit
There are numerous laws that make distracted driving an offense. These laws enhance the safety of all road users by prohibiting the following:
- All drivers from sending, receiving, or reading text messages when driving
- All drivers from operating vehicles while using a handheld phone or communication device
- Minor’s (drivers under 18) from using any handheld or hands-free phones or communication devices
- Drivers of transit buses and school buses from using phones while driving
The law defines negligence as the failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to yourself or other people. When distracted driving leads to a car accident, the negligent driver is liable for damages incurred.
Some of the common injuries suffered following an accident caused by a distracted driver include:
- Brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Head and neck injuries
- Internal organ damage
- Chest injuries
- Broken or fractured bones
- Severe burns
- Loss of limbs or traumatic amputations
- Catastrophic injuries
- Wrongful death
If an accident is the sole fault of a distracted driver, you could be entitled to compensation for the following damages:
- Immediate and future medical care expenses
- Lost wages and lost future earning potential
- Rehabilitative care and physical therapy
- Disfigurement and scarring
- Mental anguish
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of independence and consortium
- Diminished quality of life
- Property damage
- Wrongful death compensation
So, what if you are partially to blame for an accident?
If investigations unveil that you are also to blame for an accident, you will likely not receive full compensation for damages suffered. The comparative fault system ensures that accident victims cater to their percentage of the fault. For instance, if you played a 20% role in causing an accident, you will only receive 80% of the total value of the damages suffered.
Following an accident, it is best to talk to your attorney before getting into any agreements with an insurance company. It is common for insurance adjusters to use comparative fault laws to dissuade victims from attempting to pursue a matter further. Even if you also bear some blame, you still qualify for a substantial amount of compensation.
One of the primary duties of your personal injury attorney is to place a price tag on the damages you have suffered. A well-established law firm will use contacts in various industries to ensure your case is accurately valued. Moreover, your lawyer should be dedicated to pursuing a fair value for your case and ascertaining that you do not receive a dollar less than what you deserve.
How to Prove the Other Driver Was Distracted
Not so many things in life are half as frightening as a distracted driver behind the wheel. Checking social media status can lead to a devastating accident within the split of a minute. While using a phone or communication device is considered the deadliest threat to road users, including drivers, pedestrians, and passengers, other common distractions that can be contributing factors to an accident include:
- Shifting the focus to something outside the car
- Passenger activities
- Smoking, eating or drinking when driving
- Tinkering with manufacturer-installed systems like climate control, radios, and GPS
- Fishing for something on the floor, seat, or even the dashboard
- Monitoring active or loud kids
- Grooming while driving
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
Unfortunately, proving that distracted driving caused an accident is challenging. This makes it imperative to enlist a skilled attorney who can help prove “negligence per se” or presumed negligence. An experienced attorney can use various tactics to unveil even tricky types of distraction, like applying makeup or adding cream to a cup of tea.
Some of the potential sources of evidence include:
- Smartphone metadata
- Vehicle metadata (especially if the car involved in a crash is a newer model)
- Cell phone records
- Police reports
- Testimonies from eyewitnesses or passengers
- Nearby traffic cameras or video surveillance
Even using the above sources of evidence do not guarantee that an insurance company will settle a claim without a fight. Insurance companies are notorious for defending themselves aggressively to ensure they only dish out the least possible amount in compensation. With a competent attorney in your corner, proving a distracted driver caused an accident will not be easy, but it is possible.
It is crucial to understand that each case is different. There are numerous other strategies of gathering evidence apart from the ones mentioned above. For instance, at Dallas Horton & Associates, we also use skilled professionals to lend a hand with technological or forensic investigation. This helps with accident reconstruction and gathering proof that can significantly benefit your personal injury lawsuit.
Is It Necessary To Have A Lawyer When Pursuing A Distracted Driving Case?
The law does not make it mandatory to seek legal representation when pursuing compensation for an accident caused by a distracted driver. Often, the insurance company will rush to offer compensation, especially when a case is straightforward. This makes it possible to receive a settlement for “some” of the damages suffered.
What is beyond debate is that it is in your best interests to work with a personal injury attorney. The professional will help protect your rights and best interests by ensuring that you recover the highest possible financial compensation. Irrespective of how friendly insurers sound, they are not on your side.
The work of an insurance adjuster is to help an insurance company save as much money as possible. The specialist will ask questions to see if you can be cornered into providing incriminating information that can diminish your claim. If the expert offers a settlement, it is probably an attempt to buy you off and ensure you do not pursue the actual value of the compensation you deserve. On the other hand, an experienced personal injury lawyer will be dedicated to advocating for your best interests. When you win, your attorney wins!
Here is what you can expect from your personal injury attorney:
- Complete dedication to conducting thorough investigations into the circumstances around an accident
- Obtaining evidence to support your claim
- Using proper legal defense strategies to reduce the effectiveness of arguments raised by insurance companies to shift part or all the blame to you
- Represent you during negotiations or in court to obtain a fair settlement for you
Like with any other personal injury lawsuit involving a vehicle collision, victims of accidents caused by distracted driving should follow the following steps right after an incident:
- Seek medical attention and obtain supportive documents for the injuries suffered
- Meet a personal injury attorney to discuss the matter
- File a suit in the appropriate court
- Attempt negotiating with the insurance company
- Move to court as a last resort and let a judge or jury decide the matter
Depending on the unique circumstances of your case and the levels of expertise of the attorney you choose, you could even benefit from punitive damages. In situations where a distracted driver causes an accident when picking work-related calls, you could qualify to file a personal injury lawsuit against a driver’s employer. A claim has excellent chances of success, especially if the involved employer profits from having company drivers accessible on the phone while driving. By establishing how an employer benefits from a driver on a “work-related” call, you could have a good chance of collecting punitive damages from the corporation involved.
You owe yourself the favor of finding an attorney with extensive experience dealing with distracted driving injury claims. Law firms like Dallas Horton & Associates have a track record of successfully negotiating multi-million dollar settlements over the years. The best part is that the firm works on a contingency basis, meaning you do not need to spend a dime out of your pocket.
Find A Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
An accident caused by a distracted driver in Las Vegas, NV, can have a devastating impact on your life. At Dallas Horton & Associates, we can help you pursue the compensation you deserve. With our help, you can seek a settlement for personal injury, property damage, and wrongful death, just to mention a few. Our team of seasoned lawyers will help you find the much-needed evidence to give you an upper hand during negotiations or in the courtroom. For more information about distracted driving or personal injury lawsuits caused by a distracted driving violation, please contact us at 702-380-3100. We offer a 100% free and no-obligation case evaluation.