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June 10, 2024

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Distracted driving refers to any activity that diverts attention from driving, endangering the driver, passengers, and others on the road. This includes a wide range of behaviors that can be grouped into three main types:

Visual Distractions: Taking your eyes off the road. This includes activities like looking at your phone, reading, or even glancing at something happening outside the vehicle.

Manual Distractions: Taking your hands off the wheel. Common examples are texting, eating, adjusting the radio, or reaching for items inside the car.   

Cognitive Distractions: Taking your mind off driving. This includes engaging in deep conversation, daydreaming, or being preoccupied with personal problems.

Legal Framework in California

Cell Phone Usage Laws

Hand-Held Ban: It is illegal for all drivers to use a handheld cell phone while driving (California Vehicle Code Section 23123).

Hands-Free Requirement: Drivers 18 and older can use hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth, but cannot hold a phone (California Vehicle Code Section 23123.5).

Texting Ban: Drivers are prohibited from writing, sending, or reading text-based communications while driving unless using a hands-free device (California Vehicle Code Section 23123.5).

Minors' Restrictions: Drivers under 18 are not allowed to use any electronic communication device, including hands-free (California Vehicle Code Section 23124).

Legal Responsibilities of Drivers

In California, all drivers have a legal duty of care to operate their vehicles safely and responsibly, which includes avoiding distractions. This duty of care encompasses several key responsibilities:

Attention: Drivers must remain attentive to the road and surrounding conditions at all times. This means avoiding activities that could divert their attention, such as using a cell phone, eating, or adjusting in-car devices.

Adherence to Traffic Laws: Drivers must obey all traffic laws and signals. Distracted driving often leads to violations such as running red lights, improper lane changes, and failing to yield, all of which increase the risk of accidents.

Safe Operation: Drivers are responsible for controlling their vehicle in a manner that ensures the safety of all road users. Engaging in distractions undermines this control and can result in accidents, making the driver liable for any damages caused.

Consequences for Violators

Fines and Penalties:

   - First Offense: A base fine of $20.

   - Subsequent Offenses: A base fine of $50 for each subsequent offense.

   - Additional Costs: These fines can increase significantly when additional fees and penalties are added.

Points on Driving Record:

Distracted driving violations can result in points being added to the driver’s record. Accumulating too many points can lead to increased insurance premiums and, potentially, the suspension of the driver’s license.

Civil Liability:

In the event of an accident caused by distracted driving, the at-fault driver may face civil liability. This means they could be sued for damages by the injured parties, which can include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other related costs.

Criminal Charges:

In severe cases, particularly where distracted driving results in serious injury or death, the driver may face criminal charges. Charges can range from misdemeanors to felonies, depending on the circumstances and severity of the incident.

Insurance Implications:

Drivers found guilty of distracted driving may see their insurance premiums increase. Additionally, if their actions lead to a significant accident, their insurance company may choose to drop their coverage entirely.

Immediate Steps to Take After Being Hit by a Distracted Driver

Ensure Safety

Move to a Safe Location: If possible, move your vehicle out of traffic to a safe location such as the shoulder of the road or a nearby parking lot. Turn on your hazard lights to alert other drivers.

Check for Injuries: Assess yourself and any passengers for injuries. Even if injuries seem minor, it's important to be cautious as some injuries may not be immediately apparent due to adrenaline or shock.

Call Emergency Services

Contact the Police: Call 911 to report the accident. A police officer will come to the scene, assess the situation, and file an official accident report. This report can be critical for any legal proceedings or insurance claims.

Request Medical Assistance: If there are any injuries, request an ambulance. Emergency medical personnel can provide immediate care and transport anyone who needs further medical attention to the hospital.

Gather Evidence

Take Photos: Use your phone or camera to take photos of the accident scene from multiple angles. Include images of all vehicles involved, any visible injuries, road conditions, traffic signs, and any other relevant details.

Obtain Witness Information: If there are any witnesses to the accident, ask for their names and contact information. Witness statements can be valuable in corroborating your account of the incident.

Exchange Information: Exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver(s) involved in the accident. Be sure to get their full name, address, phone number, insurance company, policy number, and driver’s license number.

Document Details: Write down or use a voice recorder to note important details about the accident, such as the time, date, location, and your recollection of how the accident occurred. Also, note if the other driver was visibly using their phone or engaged in other distractions.

Seek Medical Attention

Immediate Medical Evaluation: After leaving the scene of the accident, visit a healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation. Some injuries, like whiplash or internal injuries, may not show symptoms immediately but can have serious long-term effects if left untreated.

Follow-Up Care: Adhere to any follow-up care or treatment plans provided by your healthcare provider. This can include visiting specialists, undergoing physical therapy, or taking prescribed medications.

Documentation: Keep detailed records of all medical evaluations, treatments, and expenses related to the accident. This documentation is essential for proving the extent of your injuries and the associated costs when filing a claim.

Your Legal Rights as a Victim

Right to Compensation

As a victim of a distracted driving accident, you have the right to seek compensation for various losses and damages. The types of compensation you may be entitled to include:

Medical Bills: This covers all expenses related to medical treatment, including emergency room visits, hospital stays, surgeries, medications, physical therapy, and any future medical needs resulting from the accident.

Lost Wages: If your injuries prevent you from working, you can claim compensation for lost income. This includes wages lost during recovery and any reduction in earning capacity if your injuries lead to long-term or permanent disability.

Pain and Suffering: This type of compensation addresses the physical pain and emotional distress caused by the accident and its aftermath. It considers factors such as the severity of your injuries, the impact on your daily life, and the psychological effects of the accident.

Property Damage: You can seek compensation for damage to your vehicle and any personal belongings that were damaged in the accident.

Loss of Consortium: In some cases, compensation may be available for the impact of the accident on your relationship with your spouse or family, such as loss of companionship or support.

Filing a Claim

Filing an insurance claim against the distracted driver involves several steps:

Report the Accident: Notify your insurance company about the accident as soon as possible. Provide them with all relevant details, including the police report number and the contact information for the other driver and any witnesses.

Gather Documentation: Collect all evidence related to the accident, including photos, witness statements, medical records, and receipts for any expenses incurred as a result of the accident.

File the Claim: Contact the at-fault driver’s insurance company to file a claim. You will need to provide them with a detailed account of the accident, along with any supporting documentation.

Negotiate: Be prepared to negotiate with the insurance adjuster. They may offer a settlement that is lower than what you deserve. It’s essential to know the full extent of your damages and stand firm on a fair settlement amount.

Legal Representation: Consider hiring a personal injury attorney to handle the claims process. An attorney can help ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive the compensation you are entitled to.

Dealing with Insurance Companies

Interacting with insurance companies can be challenging. Here are some tips to help you handle interactions with insurance adjusters effectively:

Stay Calm and Professional: Maintain a calm and professional demeanor when speaking with insurance adjusters. Avoid letting emotions drive your interactions.

Do Not Admit Fault: Be careful not to admit fault or downplay your injuries. Stick to the facts and let the investigation determine liability.

Document Everything: Keep a record of all communications with the insurance company, including the date and time of phone calls, the names of the representatives you speak with, and the content of your conversations.

Be Cautious with Recorded Statements: Insurance adjusters may ask for a recorded statement. It’s often best to consult with an attorney before providing one, as anything you say can be used to minimize your claim.

Understand Your Policy: Familiarize yourself with the terms of your insurance policy and the at-fault driver’s policy. Knowing what is covered can help you better understand what compensation you can seek.

Consult an Attorney: If you feel overwhelmed or unsure about the claims process, consulting a personal injury attorney can provide you with the guidance and support you need. An attorney can handle negotiations and ensure you receive a fair settlement.