Texting and Driving in California

It seems hardly a day goes by without hearing something in the news about an accident caused by texting and driving, in California and throughout the US. The fact is that texting while operating a vehicle is a form of “distracted” driving, which is a term used to describe any activity that diverts attention away from what should be the primary task at hand: Driving.

Other examples of distracted driving include:

  • Surfing the internet or talking on the phone;
  • Taking a photo;
  • Checking weather or maps;
  • Viewing social media;
  • Eating or drinking;
  • Grooming;
  • Utilizing audio controls or navigation system; and,
  • Many others.

When a driver cannot devote his or her full attention to controlling the car, the result is a safety threat and an increase in the risks of crashing. However, texting while driving is among the most worrisome type of distraction because sending or reading a message takes the eyes off the road for an average of five seconds.

Traveling at a speed of 55 miles per hour, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of a football field while blindfolded, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

In this article

This article explores various aspects of texting and driving, covering:

 
Finally, this article will focus on the victims of texting and driving accidents in California. Despite the legal implications and severe consequences, too many motorists still engage in messaging while operating a vehicle. They cause an alarming number of accidents every year, resulting in injuries and fatalities.

Victims and their families do have options to recover compensation for these casualties, so it’s important to understand your rights if you’ve suffered losses.

Understanding Why Texting and Driving is so Dangerous

A driver is forced to perform a number of primary, necessary tasks to safely operate motor vehicles; secondary, unnecessary activities interfere considerably with the fundamental tasks. Texting presents a major distraction to the operator’s ability to perform the critical tasks required to drive safely.

Texting as an Internal Distraction

external-vs-internal-driving-distractions

Distractions outside the car, such as an accident, animal, pedestrian, bicyclist, emergency vehicle, are external in nature. Texting while driving is internal because it takes place within the confines of the vehicle. Distractions can be further broken down into three main categories:

  1. Visual Distractions

    When the motorist’s visual focus drifts to something other than the road and surrounding conditions, it’s a visual distraction.

  2. Manual Distractions

    If an activity requires the operator to manipulate an object or device other than the steering wheel or vehicle controls, it falls into the manual category.

  3. Cognitive Distractions

    A driver may be thinking about a topic not related to operating the car, impacting concentration and dedication to the primary task of driving.

Texting always involves #1 and #2 above, and at times may include all three of these distractions, which is what makes it extremely dangerous.

A Summary of Texting and Driving Laws in California

The law in California bans different activities related to phone use and applies to different age groups.

State Law Applicable to All Drivers

State law recently underwent an overhaul in the area of using wireless electronics while operating a motor vehicle, having been enacted in September 2016 with an effective date of January 1, 2017. Section 23123.5 of the Vehicle Code now provides:

  • A driver cannot hold and operate a smartphone unless the device allows and is configured for voice-operated, hands-free functioning – and it is actually being used as such while driving.
  • In addition to the above, the driver can only operate the smartphone under certain conditions:
    • The device is mounted to the vehicle’s windshield, in similar fashion to a GPS unit, or is affixed to the dashboard or center console; and,
    • The driver is only required to single-swipe or click the smartphone to activate or deactivate its functions.

A violation of the provisions may result in a $20 fine for the first offense, and $50 for subsequent incidents. However, the costs for an offender may be much higher after accounting for court costs and attorneys’ fees. The law does not apply points to a person’s driving record in the same way as other moving violations.

The new law is intended to close up a loophole that existed under prior law, wherein drivers were only prohibited from talking and texting on their phones; other activities, including posting on social media, scrolling through music playlists, taking photos or video, and using map functions were not banned until this latest amendment to the Vehicle Code.

It’s important to note that the law doesn’t apply to smartphone-like systems that are installed by the manufacturer of the vehicle; it only applies to electronic wireless communications devices, including cell phones, smartphones, mobile radio devices (i.e., “walkie talkies”), tablets, computers, pagers, or two-way messaging products.

Laws Applicable to Younger Drivers

A different section of the Vehicle Code relates to drivers under the age of 18 years old: Section 23124. Drivers 17 and younger are prohibited from using any wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device, regardless of whether it can be operated in hands-free mode.

Enforcement of Texting While Driving Laws

There are two methods by which a driver may be cited for texting and driving:

  1. Primary Enforcement: Police do have authority to pull over a driver if they witness a violation of Section 23123.5, no matter what the age. An officer doesn’t need to see any other violation in order to apprehend a motorist.
  2. Secondary Enforcement: Law enforcement cannot pull over a driver solely on suspicion of violating Section 23124. Police can, however, issue an additional citation for violating this section if the driver is detained for a different violation – including Section 23123.5.

In other words, a person under 18 cannot be cited only for a violation of Section 23124, because there would need to be an underlying driving violation. On the other hand, if officers see a motorist violating Section 23123.5 and pull that person over for it – and then find out he or she is under 18 – there would be two citations involved.

Texting and Driving Statistics in the US and California

Texting and Driving Statistics

Nationwide statistics bear out how risky texting while can be, as well as how dangerous it actually is in accidents:

  • Engaging in texting increases the risk of a collision by double as compared to what the NHTSA refers to as “model” driving.
  • On average, text messaging takes a driver’s eyes off the road for a total of 23 seconds.
  • In 2015, 3,477 people died in car accidents involving distracted drivers, including those texting at the time. That number is up from 3,154 in the year 2013 and 3,179 in 2014.
  • During 2015, 391,000 were injured in texting and distracted driving crashes.
  • There are around 660,000 drivers using their phones during daylight hours, despite the fact that 46 states have enacted laws prohibiting texting while driving.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 31% of drivers aged 18-64 had read or sent text messages while driving at least once during the previous month. Three-quarters of drivers admit that they’ve seen others do so as well.

In addition, there are some specific statistics that demonstrate the risks and hazards of texting while driving in California:

  • 80% of car accidents in the state involve some sort of driver distraction.
  • Using a phone, either by talking or texting, is the number one source of driver distractions.
  • In 2014, 61% of California motorists reported in a survey they had been hit or nearly hit by a driver who was using an electronic device at the time.
  • More than half of drivers in California admitted to making a driving mistake or violating a traffic law while using a cell phone.

Teens and Texting While Driving

Getting a driver’s license is among the most anticipated milestones in a teenager’s life, and many parents even look forward to the moment when their children can help with errands. However, the riskiest time period for a teen driver is within the first few months after obtaining their license. The biggest factors for teen drivers include lack of experience, risk taking, and impaired driving. However, driving while distracted by texting is at the top of the list.

The age-specific statistics, both nationwide and in California, show the alarming incidence of teens who text while driving.

  • Of all drivers under the age of 20 that were involved in fatal crashes, 10% admitted to being distracted by text or phone use.
  • Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the US.
  • On average, 7 teens die in car crashes every day.
  • A transportation research study found that up to 25% of teen drivers respond to texts one or more times, every time they drive. Twenty percent of teens and ten percent of parents admit that they have extended text message exchanges while driving.
  • The FCC found that 11% of motorists in the 18-20 age group who were involved in a car accident admitted that they were texting at the time of the collision.

Resources for Parents of Teen Drivers

While the numbers on teens texting and driving are staggering, there are ways parents can improve safety behind the wheel. Parents are their children’s role models, so start them off on the right foot by demonstrating compliance with all traffic laws. Wear your seatbelt, stick to the speed limit, and – most importantly – don’t engage in texting while driving. Be the motorist you want your young driver to be by eliminating distractions.

It’s also smart to consider a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, that lays out your expectations for your child’s use of the car. A written contract allows you to outline rules and penalties before an accident occurs – and before emotions can cause accusations to fly.

Additional resources for parents include:

  • AAA’s Keys 2 Drive, which includes a newsletter with topics relevant to the parents of teen drivers;
  • The CDC’s site, Parents are the Key to Safe Teen Driving; and,
  • Automobile Club of Southern California, including its handbook “Parent & Teen Driver Resource Guide” that contains helpful tips at the Pre-Permit, Permit, and License stages.

California Initiatives & Organizations to Prevent Texting and Driving

One of the most active organizations fighting against teen texting and driving is Impact Teen Drivers, a California non-profit entity committed to educating your drivers about the risks and implications of distracted driving. The organization has an active social media presence and has reached over two million fans since its inception in 2007.

Other organizations dedicated to texting and driving initiatives include:

  • NHTSA;
  • The California chapter of AAA; and,
  • The California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Conclusion

Stronger enforcement by police, an increase in public awareness, and emphasis on personal accountability will have a positive impact on texting and driving. However, these initiatives do little after the fact when a victim suffers injuries in an accident that results from another motorist’s distracted driving. Injuries and death still occur at an alarming frequency, despite efforts at the national, State of California, and local levels.

Apologies and regret don’t cover the astronomical medical costs of treatment or lost wages for a victim. Remorse won’t bring back a loved one who was killed due to the negligent texting of another driver. If you’ve suffered losses, it’s not a sufficient remedy to see the responsible driver get a ticket.

As a victim, you may be entitled to financial compensation for the damages you sustain. However, the key to your success in recovering a monetary reward is hiring a car accident attorney with experience in California texting and driving cases. You need a lawyer that will fight for your rights against aggressive insurance companies and will protect your interests in court.

For more information on texting and driving accidents in California, please contact GJEL Accident Attorneys. We’re happy to schedule a consultation at our Orinda office or at any one of our many regional locations.

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Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.