Across the nation, distracted driving has become an epidemic due to drivers of all ages talking or texting on handheld devices. To curb distracted driving – and ultimately reduce the car accidents attributed to distracted driving – the federal government and private organizations have initiated campaigns to promote safe driving practices. Many states, including California, have further built on these initiatives by legislating anti-texting bans and hands-free laws.
In 2008, California’s “hands-free” law required drivers to put down their cell phones and use hands-free devices when talking while driving. According to the Automobile Club of Southern California, the number of drivers talking on cells phones has decreased significantly – dropping from 9.3 percent to 3.2 percent. Unfortunately, the text messaging ban has not been as successful.
California’s ban against texting while driving became effective in January of 2009. It prohibits drivers from using electronic wireless devices to read, write or send text messages. Yet, research by the Automobile Club of Southern California indicates the legislation has not been successful. In measuring distracted driving before and after the January 2009 ban, the organization found the number of drivers seen texting has nearly tripled, rising from 1.4 percent to 4.1 percent.
With fines of just $20 for the first offense and $50 for additional offenses, the auto club believes stronger penalties are required to effectively deter drivers from texting. Many California lawmakers obviously agree with this view as they introduced legislation (SB 28) increasing fines and adding points to driving records. However, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill on September 7, 2011, writing, “For people of ordinary means, current fines and penalty assessments should be sufficient deterrent.” It is uncertain whether lawmakers will revisit the issue.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 5,000 fatalities and 450,000 injuries were reported in 2009 due to distracted driving accidents. These numbers are expected to increase as communications technology advances.
For those who have suffered loss due to accidents caused by distracted drivers, compensation may be available. Following a car accident, it is important for injured victims, or the families of those who lost loved ones, to consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney. During an initial consultation, the lawyer will explain the legal rights for victims and determine if grounds are present to pursue a claim.
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