Distracted driving: Do current CA laws lag behind new technology?

Many people in Westlake Village have experienced near misses or outright accidents involving distracted drivers. A 2013 survey from California's Office of Traffic Safety found that almost 7 out of 10 respondents had been hit or almost hit by a driver who was talking or texting. More than one-third of the survey respondents identified talking and texting while driving as the top safety threats to California drivers.

Fortunately, state laws ban drivers from texting and using handheld phones for purposes such as making calls. Still, recent events suggest that these laws may not be keeping up with new technology, leaving drivers in danger.

Lack of relevant laws

The gap between evolving technology and existing state laws became clear earlier this year, when one California man contested a traffic ticket he had received for using a map application on his handheld cellphone while driving. A lower court upheld the ticket, since state law bans the use of handheld cellphones, according to the Los Angeles Times.

However, an appellate court reversed the ruling, contending that the existing law was not intended as a comprehensive ban on all forms of handheld cellphone use. The law was enacted in 2006, before most people were regularly browsing, playing games or using apps on their cellphones. The court found that the law only banned drivers from using handheld cellphones to place calls.

Last year, the ticketing of a driver who was wearing Google Glass illustrated the issue of punishing risky behaviors under current laws. The officer had to cite the driver under an old law that banned the use of video displays in front of the driver's headrest. The ticket was later dismissed because there was no evidence that the device was on, according to Reuters. The question of whether state law permits people to drive while using devices such as Google Glass has not been resolved.

Given the rise of integrated, ever-present technology, from in-car entertainment systems to smart watches, this lack of relevant laws and clear policies is problematic. Without guidelines and legal sanctions for the use of new forms of technology, many motorists may be hurt in distraction-related accidents.

Holding negligent drivers accountable

Although some forms of distracted driving are not explicitly illegal, motorists who cause car accidents while engaging in these behaviors can still be held responsible. Drivers who were not breaking the law may be found negligent if the following conditions are met:

  • The driver owed a reasonable duty of care to other drivers.
  • The driver breached the duty of care by acting in a way that was not reasonable or prudent given the circumstances.
  • The driver's actions directly resulted in another person's injuries.
  • The other person suffered verifiable injuries or economic losses.

People hurt in accidents involving drivers who were distracted but not technically breaking the law may still seek compensation for their injuries. However, establishing the other driver's negligence may be more challenging when direct legal violations have not occurred.

Anyone who has been harmed in an accident involving a distracted driver should consider meeting with an attorney to discuss the circumstances and the available legal options.