Sep 21, 2014 - Articles - by Dodson & Hooks, APLC
By now, many of us are familiar with the dangers of distracted driving. We may think we are safe drivers or can multitask while behind the wheel, but taking our eyes off the road even for a split second can have life-long consequences. The number of serious or fatal car accidents caused by distracted drivers is a major concern for federal and state government agencies.
But despite the attention, there are still a large number of distracted drivers on our roadways. A recent survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 18 percent of participating drivers had sent either a text or email while they were driving. The numbers were especially high for younger drivers, as half of those drivers surveyed in the 21 to 24 age group had texted or emailed while behind the wheel.
NHTSA statistics show that there were over 3,000 fatalities attributed to distracted driving in 2010. Law enforcement agencies have implemented new procedures to determine if distracted driving was involved in each car collision moving forward. So these number could increase, which may lead to a renewed emphasis on the laws currently in place.
Louisiana’s Distracted Driving Laws
Louisiana has several rules that address distracted driving. All drivers are prohibited from reading or sending a text message while driving. Violations of the rule will result in a fine of $175 for a first-time offense; repeat violations may incur a fine of up to $500. Distracted drivers that cause accidents may see their fines doubled. Texting while driving is a primary violation, which means that law enforcement officers do not have to have another reason to make a traffic stop if they see someone that they suspect is texting or emailing while driving.
Younger drivers also have specific restrictions regarding distracted driving. Drivers 17 or younger are not allowed to use wireless devices for making calls or sending text messages while driving, except in cases of emergency. A first offense under this rule can result in a fine of $100, while repeat violations could mean a fine of $250.
Texting laws can be extremely difficult to enforce. Law enforcement needs to be able to prove that a driver was texting or emailing while driving, as a driver that is simply holding a cellphone cannot be considered to be automatically breaking a rule. Despite repeated attempts, the state has no law in place that restricts the use of handheld cellphones for drivers over the age of 17.
New Federal Push Coming?
While Louisiana has taken steps to reduce the number of drivers texting while driving, several states have no such laws in place, or have laws that do not make texting while driving a primary offense. Currently, 35 states have rules that prohibit texting while driving, with 32 making it a primary offense. Only nine states have banned using a handheld cellphone while behind the wheel.
Special rules have been put in place by federal agencies that specifically apply to drivers of commercial vehicles. In 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) enacted a ban on sending text messages while behind the wheel. Recently, the FMSCA implemented a new rule prohibiting the use of a handheld cellphones for drivers of commercial vehicles. Those caught violating the rule face a fine of $2,750 for first offense, and their employers could face a fine as high as $11,000.
The new rules put in place by the FMSCA could inspire other agencies to also crackdown on distracted drivers. Agencies may propose new rules for motorists or decide to cut the amount of federal funds available to states that do not take action. This was the approach used to encourage the changing of drunk driving laws in the 1980s, and might be the only way that the holdout states ever enact distracted driving legislation.
Each state has different rules, which can lead to confusion for motorists. Those who travel frequently may not know what distracted driving rules apply in a particular location, which is further complicated by cities and counties making their own distracted driving laws. Federal guidelines or standards would make it clear which rules are in force, and also impose specific punishments.
It is important for all motorists to have distracted driving laws in effect that are actually focused on making roads safer. Simply having a rule in place does not protect anyone if it is loosely enforced or if the penalties are lenient.
If you have been injured in a car or truck accident due to a distracted driver, speak to an experienced personal injury attorney in your area to understand the options that may be available to you. Do not simply settle your claim with an insurance company. They do not represent your best interests, and will often try to pay you less than your case is worth.