How Distracted Driving Affects Liability

Distracted driving is a major issue throughout the United States and one that has recently come to the fore of public attention. In 2011, distracted driving accounted for 10 percent of injury accidents and resulted in more than 3,300 deaths and 387,000 injuries. As drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, distracted driving puts us all at risk every day.

Driver distraction often provides a strong argument for fault in any type of auto accident injury case. When a driver engages in an activity that state law specifically prohibits while driving, there is often a very strong presumption that the person was at fault for any resulting accident. This is especially important in Washington State, which has some of the toughest distracted driving laws in the nation:

  • A ban on handheld communications devices while driving for all drivers
  • A ban on texting while driving for all drivers
  • A ban on all cell phone use, including hands-free units, for novice drivers

However, distracted driving conduct does not need to be strictly illegal to play a prominent role in auto accident litigation. Activities such as eating and drinking while driving, adjusting the radio, reading maps, adjusting GPS units or even conversing with other passengers are not illegal, but can be just as distracting.

Moreover, if a jury finds that such conduct was unreasonable under the circumstances, it can be just as strong of an indicator of liability as a violation of the vehicle code would be.