Cell Phones and Auto Accidents

In the State of Florida, many people use cell phones while driving. Florida currently imposes no restrictions on cell phone or texting behavior in automobiles. That will change in October, but for now on any given day, another motorist may wave you at you to get your attention because you have your cell phone against your ear. Many cars also sport a “hang up and drive” bumper sticker, showing the car owner’s distaste for the use of cell phones while driving.The other driver does not trust you and for good reason.

Some people equate cell phone use with drunk driving, if only because the cell phone users are about as aware of their surroundings as an intoxicated individual behind the wheel. Cell phone users in parking lots weave around pedestrians and pull into spots without making eye contact, touching their brakes or otherwise acknowledging the presence of others. Let us face it: cell phone use is about being absorbed in communicating with someone not currently present. Cell phone users behind the wheel may be a threat to others. Study after study has demonstrated that those that are using their cell phones while they drive are more likely to suddenly slow down—that in fact those drivers that have their phone in hand almost always slow down to unsafe speeds while reading the screen. Additionally, the distraction of the cell phone leads to increases in sudden lane changes and other unsafe behaviors as drivers realize in an instant that they need to get into another lane, or make a turn, or perform some other maneuver in their car.

Some studies indicate that cell phone use while driving increases the likelihood of an accident by 400 percent. When Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law a texting-while-driving act that takes effect in October, he stated that texting drivers were 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident. Tens of thousands of deaths have been attributed to cell phone use behind the wheel resulting in crashes and over a billion injuries have resulted nationwide. With a situation such as this, many states and even local jurisdictions are moving to not only craft new legislation to deal with these cases, but also strengthening the penalties on laws that already exist, since the current restrictions and their penalties don’t have the depth of effect that lawmakers hoped for when creating the legislation.

The texting while driving ban in the State of Florida that is set to go into effect in October can be brought to bear on drivers who engage in the unsafe activity, but the habit of texting is copious and widespread, according to both statistics and obvious anecdotal evidence. Accidents resulting from this behavior are not likely to slow down for years, even with states increasingly passing laws and developing stiff penalties. Who doesn’t reach for the cell phone instinctively when they receive a text, even if they are in the car? The instinct is so ingrained that many people who are otherwise very cautious and careful drivers have fallen victim to the insidious temptation of looking “just for a moment.”
Florida has no ban on hand-held cell phone use, and the ban on texting is a secondary offense, meaning a police officer will need a primary reason to pull a driver over before they can add a charge of texting in Florida. That single detail restricts law enforcement from taking phones away from drivers who are using them improperly; in some jurisdictions that are taking the law more seriously, laws may exist that allow police officers to seize the cell phone as part of a case, as well as getting phone records to prove that a text message was being sent at the time that the defendant was apprehended. On the other hand, in some instances a driver may not be charged with texting while driving until the driver is charged with vehicular homicide. In such cases, the plaintiffs need a good auto accident attorney.

When a texting driver has struck someone, the driver can be sued for gross negligence and reckless disregard or indifference of others; and if the driver is in a company vehicle, action can be taken against the company. In these cases, it can be particularly important and extremely useful to retain the services of an auto accident attorney. Judges are beginning to award punitive damages to plaintiffs in texting-while-driving cases, meaning plaintiffs can be compensated well for their pain and suffering due to the actions of the irresponsible driver.

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