The Law Offices OfPhilip M. Tobin

Is distracted driving still a problem on California roads?

Californians spend a great deal of time commuting and dealing with traffic jams. But sometimes, when you're driving down the freeway, it looks like motorists are doing everything behind the wheel except driving.

You see people eating, drinking, grooming and, despite California's ban on talking on hand-held devices while driving, using cellphones. The problem is that when your mind, eyes and hands aren't fully occupied with the task of driving, all of those distractions can create dangerous hazards.

Is is really that dangerous to multitask while driving?

In a word, yes. Below are some facts from the California Office of Traffic Safety (COTS) for the year 2016.

  • Over half of California drivers report getting into an accident or having a near miss with a motorist who was either testing or chatting on a cellphone.
  • Texting behind the wheel was considered to be the most serious distraction, in the opinion of 44 percent of the survey's respondents.
  • Even so, almost 40 percent of surveyed motorists admitted to making driving errors while talking on cellphones.
  • In 2013 in the United States, there were 424,000 people hurt in collisions with distracted motorists, and 3,154 more were killed.
  • Of all the teen drivers involved in fatal accidents, 10 percent were noted to be distracted when they crashed.

Multitasking is very dangerous

Just because you can paint your nails, catch up on the Real Housewives, supervise the kids and check your email simultaneously does not mean that you can divert your attention from driving without imperiling yourself and others on the road.

Manual-visual sub-tasks, e.g., dialing a phone, texting or even reaching for your phone, triple drivers' risks of wrecking. Safety experts state that, on average, a texting driver takes their eyes off of the road ahead for five seconds.

If that driver is doing 55 mph, it would be like driving down a football field, end zone to end zone, wearing a blindfold.

Are those distractions illegal?

While at present only talking on a handheld cellphone and texting are illegal when driving, the police can cite obviously distracted motorists for infractions like VC 22350. While it is technically a speed law, it can be cited when motorists drive recklessly and disregard the safety of others or their property.

Below are some tips for distraction-free driving.

  • Consider the cost. A first-time ticket for texting and talking while driving will set you back $161.
  • Avoid temptation. Turn phones off when you start your engine.
  • Pull over to eat and drink. Or, wait until you arrive at your destination.
  • Don't call those whom you know are driving. If you know it's the time your kids or spouse are commuting, don't call or send that text.
  • Pre-program the GPS. Ditto for the music. Open the iTunes or Spotify app before putting the car in gear.

You have recourse after accidents with distracted drivers

It can be difficult to establish that drivers were distracted at the time of their collisions. It's possible to subpoena cellphone records, but if the distraction was due to other factors, it's much harder to prove.

That can mean that the at-fault motorist might not be ticketed or charged. Many drivers erroneously believe that unless drivers receive citations they aren't liable for the damage they cause.

Learn more about your rights under California law to seek compensation from at-fault drivers who cause collisions.

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