“Distracted driving,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is engaging in any activity that diverts attention from safe driving. This includes eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, or fiddling with the stereo, entertainment, or navigation system.
However, one of the most common distractions on today’s roads is a mobile phone. Talking or texting on a mobile phone has disastrous effects: people who use their phone the most while driving are six times more likely to be involved in a crash than the least distracted drivers.
According to the Ohio Distracted Driving Task Force, Ohio has had year-over-year rises in traffic crashes and deaths since 2013. During that time, traffic fatalities increased by 17 percent and total crashes were up 7 percent. Distracted driving significantly increases the risk of a crash. Other insights from the Task Force include:
- Engaging in visual-manual tasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing, and texting with a hand-held or portable device) triples the risk of a crash.
- Distracted drivers exhibit similar behaviors to drunk drivers, including slow reaction times, erratic speeds, weaving, and sudden breaking.
- Drivers also suffer from “inattention blindness.” Talking on a mobile phone, even using a hands-free device, has been shown to divert one-third of the brain’s processing power away from driving. Consequently, drivers may be looking at the road but failing to see and process 50 percent of the driving environment, which endangers other people.
In 2017, there were approximately 14,000 recorded distracted driving crashes in Ohio, resulting in 58 fatalities, 493 serious injuries, and more than 7,000 lesser injuries. But this is likely only a fraction of the damage caused by distracted driving because it is difficult to prove as the cause of an accident. Most drivers are hesitant to report that their use of a phone or mobile device contributed to an accident.
Ohio Distracted Driving and Texting Laws
Ohio has enacted numerous laws to discourage distracted driving and reduce the number of injuries and fatalities and continues to take steps to strengthen these laws.
- Drivers under 18 years old may not use any kind of wireless devices—including cell phones (hand-held or hands-free), text-messaging units, and computers—while operating a motor vehicle, except pre-programmed GPS devices and for emergency calls. Violation is a “primary offense,” which means an officer can pull a minor driver over and ticket him or her directly for this behavior.
- Drivers over the age of 18 may be ticketed for distracted driving as a “secondary offense,” that is, as an “add-on” charge if they are pulled over for another violation (like an improper lane change or speeding). This adds $100 to the charges for the primary offense, or the driver can take a distracted driving course. The law does not require that an officer witness or otherwise prove a driver was using a mobile device, merely that the driver was “distracted.”
Unfortunately, the penalties for distracted driving are relatively lenient. Some cities and townships in our state (like Mantua, Ohio) have created their own more restrictive local laws to address distracted driving. Task forces and interest groups are working to strengthen the existing distracted driving laws or pass a more substantial primary offense law.
Recovering Damages in Distracted Driving Accidents
If you’ve been injured in a crash caused by a distracted driver, you must first prove who was at fault and to what extent. Because of the nature of the charge, this can be extremely difficult to establish. As in any crash, determining fault requires careful collection, evaluation, and assessment of all kinds of evidence, which may include:
- Police reports and any citations issued at the scene.
- Witness statements.
- Photos and videos of the accident, scene, and vehicles.
- Mobile phone records from the drivers involved.
- Social media account records from the drivers involved.
- Information on road conditions and weather.
- Accident reconstructions or other expert analysis.
- Data from traffic signals, in-vehicle systems, or other sources.
Even if you are the victim of an accident, you may be held partially liable if you were also engaged in reckless or distracted driving or otherwise contributed to the collision. This is called “contributory fault.” Although it doesn’t prevent you from recovering for your injuries, it will reduce the amount of your compensation. If a court determines you were 40 percent at fault for the accident, for example, it will reduce the amount of your award by 40 percent. If you are more at fault than all the other parties combined, you may not recover any damages.
Consult an Experienced Ohio Auto Accident Attorney
If you are injured in an accident involving a distracted driver, hiring an experienced attorney will give you the best chance of receiving the compensation you deserve for your injuries, vehicle damage, and other losses. You may be able to recover costs for future medical care, wage loss, and other compensation for your pain and suffering.
The attorneys at Obral, Silk & Pal, LLC have more than 60 years of combined legal experience and successful outcomes for our clients. Contact us today to put that experience to work for you.