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Distracted Driving and Car Accidents: Criminal Bans, Civil Liability

Some people argue that you cannot legislate against bad behavior, but placing legal limits on drivers is one of the best strategies for reducing car accidents. From statutes that criminalize drunk driving to bans on distracted driving, smart legal restrictions ultimately lead to fewer traffic deaths and serious injuries.

Over the past decade, the Oregon Division of Transportation Safety has sponsored radio ads, TV spots and billboards to raise awareness of the problems caused by distraction behind the wheel. Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) maintains a deep vault of data that shows the clear dangers caused by activities such as texting, talking to passengers and cell phone use.

Oregon lawmakers have made some progress by passing a handheld phone and texting ban for all drivers, as well as a ban on all cell phone use by novice drivers (under 18). NHTSA data suggests that these measures do not go far enough, based on studies showing that hands-free cell phone use is not significantly safer due to the fact that talking on a phone while driving diverts more than one third of brain activity from driving attention.

Cell phone and texting bans are notoriously difficult to enforce, even though texting while driving and handheld phone use are primary offenses (meaning the driver can be pulled over without committing another violation). For that reason, public education remains an important priority. Agencies such as the Portland Bureau of Transportation promote regular safety campaigns that combine targeted enforcement at known trouble spots with media blitzes to explain the dangers and increase citations.

Figures provided by NHTSA serve as a sobering reminder of the extent of the problem:

  • Nearly one of every five crashes nationwide in 2010 involved a distracted driver
  • Distracted driving led to over 3,000 deaths and over 400,000 injuries in 2010
  • Looking at a device to send or receive a text message diverts the driver’s attention from the road for four to five seconds on average, which at 55 mph means driving blind the entire length of a football field

In the aftermath of a distracted driving accident, a criminal traffic violation is not necessary to show that the at-fault driver was negligent. Even drivers who heed the letter of the law are subject to civil liability when their actions jeopardize others and cause injury or death. An Oregon car accident attorney can explain how personal injury claims work and assess a person’s eligibility for damages.

© 2017 Lance D. Youd Attorney at Law. All rights Reserved