Distracted Driving is Dangerous Driving

English: A sign that states "No Texting W...

English: A sign that states “No Texting While Driving” in West University Place, Texas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll be the first to admit it… I talk and text while I drive.  Hey, business doesn’t stop just because I get in my car.  A few times I have found myself veering from side-to-side on the road, going too slow or too fast for the marked speed limit, and even almost causing an accident.  It forced me to rethink how I use my device.

Did you know that in Pennsylvania 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3316 states — “No driver shall operate a motor vehicle on a highway or trafficway in this Commonwealth while using an interactive wireless communications device to send, read or write a text-based communication while the vehicle is in motion. A person does not send, read or write a text-based communication when the person reads, selects or enters a telephone number or name in an interactive wireless communications device for the purpose of activating or deactivating a voice communication or a telephone call.”  The penalties are no laughing matter: first – seizure: The police are authorized in the seizure or forfeiture of an interactive wireless communications device, unless otherwise provided by law. Second – penalty: A person who violates commits a summary offense and shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to pay a fine of $50.

Along with new opportunities, technology creates new problems. Since the advent of mobile devices, thousands of people have been killed in auto accidents caused by distracted drivers who were talking on cell phones or, even worse, texting instead of watching the road. In some states, you can be ticketed for using a cell phone while you are driving. In many states, you can be ticketed for texting.

Distracted Driving Is Dangerous

Distracted driving was implicated in about 16 percent of all U.S. auto fatalities in 2010. Research shows that texting and driving is more dangerous than drinking and driving. Distracted drivers react slower, are more apt to take their eyes off the road, and are more apt to take their hands off the steering wheel.

Federal Law Prohibits Distracted Driving in Some Cases

Federal law prohibits all commercial drivers from using cell phones while driving. If you are convicted of this offense, you could lose your commercial driver’s license and receive a hefty fine. Federal employees who are convicted of texting while driving a government vehicle could lose their jobs. They could also lose their jobs for driving their own vehicle but texting with a government-issued cell phone.

State Laws Differ Widely

As of 2012, 10 states and the District of Columbia ban drivers from talking on cell phones while driving. Thirty-seven states prohibit texting. In some states, such as Nebraska and Virginia, a police officer must have some other reason to stop your vehicle before the officer can ticket you for distracted driving.

Because so many distracted-driving accidents are caused by teenagers, most states ban minors from using cell phones in any capacity while driving. Penalties for distracted driving vary. Kentucky, for example, levies fines for texting and driving, while Massachusetts not only fines a driver but might revoke a driver’s license on the first offense.

Aside from being dangerous, Pennsylvania authorities have additional resources at their disposal.   Drivers who cause accidents can also be charged under the reckless/carless driving statutes.  A charge of careless driving means: Any person who drives a vehicle in careless disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of careless driving, a summary offense. But it can go beyond that.  The statute allows for additional penalities for unintentional death (If the person causes the death of another person as a result of the violation, the person shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to pay a fine of $500), or serious bodily injury (If the person  unintentionally causes the serious bodily injury of another person as a result of the violation, the person shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to pay a fine of $250).  Let’s not forget the points that PennDOT will access against your license: 3 points.

Reckless driving is far worse.  That statute states that any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving. The penalty is no joke itself: any person who violates this  commits a summary offense and shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to pay a fine of $200.

Distracted Driving Can Have Other Legal Consequences

Even if your state allows cell phone talking or texting while driving, you can be sued if you cause an accident while doing so. To win, the person who sues you must prove that your usage of the mobile device was negligent (careless) under the circumstances, that it caused the accident, and that the accident caused the damages. If you lose the lawsuit, you’ll be required to pay money damages. If your conduct was criminally negligent, meaning extremely careless, you may be prosecuted on felony charges.

A Criminal Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding distracted driving violations involving mobile devices is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact our office.

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