How Do Distracted Driving Laws Differ for Motorists and Truckers?

a trucker looking at a phone

Distracted driving is dangerous. This, however, does not prevent many people from participating in the activity. This decision has devastating consequences every year in the United States, with an estimated 400,000 people injured in distracted driving crashes in 2018 alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The consequences of distracted driving crashes may vary depending on the type of vehicle involved. An 80,000-lb tractor-trailer, for example, can cause substantially more damage in a crash than a smaller passenger vehicle. This is the reason why truckers and motorists have different restrictions related to distracted driving. Learn the differences in the laws below.

Distracted Driving Laws for Passenger Vehicle Motorists

Distracted driving laws vary from state to state. In California, drivers in passenger vehicles may not perform the following actions while behind the wheel:

  • Operate any wireless electronic device with their hands.
  • Hold a phone while using GPS or navigation apps.
  • Send or read text messages, emails, or other written communications.
  • Talk on a handheld phone.

Additionally, drivers under the age of 18 are banned from using any type of wireless communication, including all hands-free devices.

It is important to note that passenger vehicle drivers are not prohibited from using wireless electronic devices completely. Doing so just must be done in a safe manner. In California, drivers may:

  • Use GPS navigation on a phone while the phone is mounted in a legal position.
  • Talk on a phone in hands-free mode, such as on speakerphone or through Bluetooth.
  • Use voice-operated commands, such as through Siri or other systems.

Distracted Driving Laws for Truckers

Truckers are held to different traffic standards than motorists in a variety of ways. This is because truckers and other commercial drivers drive much larger vehicles and often transport higher-risk loads, such as hazardous materials or passengers. One specific rule requires commercial drivers to stick to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of half that of other motorists (0.04% as opposed to 0.08%).

Stricter regulations also come into play in regard to distracted driving. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has made the following behaviors related to device use illegal for truckers and other commercial drivers:

  • Using at least one hand to hold a mobile phone to make a call
  • Dialing a mobile phone by pressing more than a single button
  • Reaching for a mobile phone in a manner that requires a driver to maneuver so that they are no longer in a seated driving position, restrained by a seat belt

The FMCSA has implemented these measures after recent studies showed that the odds of being involved in a safety-critical event are six times greater for commercial drivers who engage in dialing a phone than for those who do not.

Truckers and other commercial drivers can comply with the FMCSA’s rules by following these guidelines:

  • Use an earpiece or the speakerphone function.
  • Use voice-activated dialing.
  • Use the hands-free feature. To comply, a driver must have their mobile telephone located where they are able to answer or end a call by touching a single button. Drivers are not in compliance if they unsafely reach for a mobile phone, even if they intend to use the hands-free function.

What Are the Consequences of Distracted Driving Crashes?

Distracted driving, whether involving a truck or a passenger vehicle, can have devastating consequences. According to the CDC, 2,841 people were killed in car crashes involving distracted drivers in 2018. Many of those killed were young drivers. In fact, 680 of the 2,841 distracted driving deaths in 2018 were individuals in the 20-29 age group. However, all age groups participate in some form of distracted driving, as the chart below illustrates:

Distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes infographic

Not every distracted driving crash results in wrongful death. However, when serious injuries or wrongful deaths do occur, it can seem even more unjust than other types of car crashes because distracted driving crashes are completely preventable.

One reason distracted driving may be so prevalent is because not everyone understands what constitutes distracted driving. Many people equate texting and driving to distracted driving. In reality, distracted driving can involve anything that diverts a driver’s three forms of attention: visual, manual, and cognitive. These activities may involve:

  • Using a smartphone
  • Adjusting the radio
  • Eating and drinking
  • Applying makeup
  • Managing children or pets

Gathering Evidence After a Distracted Driving Crash

We live in a digital age. As such, our data often remains with us, even if we delete it. This can be beneficial in proving negligence in a distracted driving claim. Knowing the type of evidence to recover and the parties to recover it from requires seasoned legal experience. It’s important to contact a qualified personal injury attorney after a distracted driving crash so you can build a strong case.

Your attorney may work to gather the following pieces of evidence after a distracted driving crash:

  • Data from the other driver’s smartphone. The other driver’s smartphone may still contain records of texts the driver sent or calls the driver made right before the crash. It also may contain data usage related to apps or videos the driver was using or watching. The timestamps from these texts, calls, or data usage can be compared to the time of the crash to determine whether the driver was illegally using their smartphone right before the incident.
  • Phone records. Sometimes, the other driver will delete their recent texts and calls to hide evidence of wrongdoing before the crash. However, this does not mean the texts and calls are permanently deleted. Your attorney can coordinate with the phone company to recover the timestamps of texts and calls, even those that were deleted on the phone.
  • Photo or video evidence. Sometimes, a security or traffic camera will be near the scene of the crash. Your attorney may be able to recover the surveillance from these cameras and check if the other driver can be seen using their phone in the vicinity.
  • Witness testimony. A witness to the crash may have seen the other driver was using their smartphone or performing another distracting activity, and may be able to provide testimony to that effect.
  • Other driver’s admission. Sometimes, a driver will say something to admit their fault in the accident. What a driver says to other people is generally admissible as a party omission, so even if the driver denies saying it, it may still come into evidence.

Injured in a Distracting Driving Crash? Contact Us Today

A distracted driving crash is completely preventable, which makes such an incident unjustifiable. If you or someone you love has been injured in a distracted driving crash, our Los Angeles personal injury attorneys are here to help. Our team has the experience and resources needed to launch an investigation into a distracted driving claim and recover the required evidence. Learn how we may be able to help you seek justice in this situation.

Call Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP at (866) 634-4525 to schedule a free consultation.

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