Is it illegal to use a cell phone while driving in the Cotton State? Can you sue a distracted driver for your injuries? We’ve got the answers...
Iris Jolly and Michael Spitzley were turning left onto Mount Olive Boulevard in Jefferson County when they were struck by a motor vehicle, driven by Robert Michael Adams, approaching from the opposite direction.
Iris fractured several ribs, facial bones, and developed a brain bleed. Michael suffered a number of serious injuries and had to have his spleen removed.
A subsequent investigation found that Robert had been using his cell phone when the accident occurred.
After a 5-day trial, the Jefferson County jury awarded $525,000 to Iris and Michael.
Sadly, accidents like these happen all the time in Alabama and across the country. In this article, we’ll take a look at distracted driving car accidents, including Alabama’s distracted driving laws, how a distracted driving citation might impact your personal injury claim, and when you should hire a car accident attorney.
What is distracted driving?
The term “distracted driving” refers to any non-driving activity that diverts your attention from driving. The most common example is texting while driving, but there are many other types of distracted driving behaviors such as:
- Eating or drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Adjusting the radio
- Watching videos
Distracting activities tend to fall into 1 of 3 categories:
- Cognitive distractions take your mind off the road (for example, talking on the phone or to a passenger)
- Visual distractions take your eyes off the road (for example, watching videos or adjusting the radio)
- Manual distractions take your hands off the wheel (for example, grooming or eating)
Texting is particularly dangerous because it involves all 3 types of distraction.
If you’re traveling 55 miles per hour, you travel about 135 yards in 5 seconds. So if you send a text, that’s the equivalent of driving approximately 1 ½ football fields blindfolded. A lot can happen in that kind of distance.
Alabama distracted driving statistics
You’ve probably already seen the alarming statistics, but it’s well worth taking another look:
|A texting driver is 23 times more likely to get into a crash than a non-texting driver.||Cell phone use while driving leads to about 1.6 million crashes in the U.S. every year.||Approximately 1 out of every 4 car accidents in the U.S. is caused by cell phone use.|
According to the Alabama Department of Transportation, 47 people were killed in distracted driving accidents in 2019 (up from 39 in 2018).
Interestingly, distracting behaviors are not just a problem among drivers. Pedestrian fatalities in Alabama have increased 63.1% since 2009, which traffic safety professionals attribute largely to distracted walking with electronic devices.
Alabama’s distracted driving laws
Alabama’s distracted driving laws are pretty relaxed compared to most states. Under Alabama Code 32-5A-350, drivers are prohibited from using wireless telecommunication devices to write, send, or read text-based communications while operating a motor vehicle.
A “wireless telecommunication device” includes a cell phone, but it also includes a personal digital assistant, laptop, iPad, and any other similar wireless device that is readily removable from a vehicle.
A “text-based communication” includes a text, but also includes an email.
In February 2021, Alabama introduced a bill that would have prohibited the use of a cell phone for any purpose while operating a vehicle. The bill did not pass, but similar legislation will undoubtedly be introduced in the future.
Alabama distracted driving laws pop quiz
Q1. Is it illegal to send an email while driving in Alabama?
Q2. Is it illegal to send a text message while parked on the shoulder of a highway or road in Alabama?
Q3. Is it illegal to talk on your cell phone while driving in Alabama?
Q4. Is it illegal to use a GPS while driving in Alabama?
Alabama’s distracted driving law is a primary enforcement statute, meaning the police can pull you over if they see you violating the statute even if you’re not violating any other law.
What are the penalties for violating Alabama’s distracted driving laws?
Alabama’s fines for violating the state’s distracted driving laws are some of the lowest in the country:
- For drivers under 18, a citation is considered a traffic violation and comes with a fine ranging from $150 to $350. The citation will also add 2 points to your driving record.
- For all others, texting while driving comes with a $25 fine for the 1st offense, $50 for the 2nd, and $75 for the 3rd.
Of course, the real consequence of texting while driving is the increased likelihood that you will get into an accident and injure yourself or someone else. If you cause damages that exceed your liability insurance policy limits, you’ll be personally liable for those damages.
How does distracted driving impact a personal injury claim
Most car accident lawsuits are based on negligence.
In Alabama, negligence is defined as the failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to someone else on the road. If the plaintiff can prove that the defendant was texting while driving (or engaging in some other distracting activity) when the accident occurred, they can generally establish negligence.
What’s more, if the defendant received a citation for violating Alabama’s no-texting statute, the defendant will be presumed negligent and the defendant will have the burden of proving that they didn’t cause the accident. This is referred to as “negligence per se.”
Fortunately for victims (and unfortunately for distracted drivers), proving that a driver was using their cell phone at the time of the crash is often relatively easy.
To help support a claim that the defendant was using their phone at the time of the accident, your lawyer may:
- Subpoena the defendant’s telephone records (usage reports can often show whether the defendant was texting, talking, watching videos, or sending an email at the time of the accident)
- Review the defendant’s vehicle data (many modern cars are equipped with technology that helps show how a driver was behaving behind the wheel in the seconds leading up to the crash)
- Study the scene of the accident (a lack of tire marks is a telltale sign that the defendant was distracted since they didn’t even try to avoid the impact)
- Locate eyewitnesses (witnesses may have seen the defendant using their phone or looking down while driving)
Do you need to hire an Alabama car accident lawyer?
An experienced lawyer can help investigate and build your distracted driving injury case. What’s more, an attorney can help you explore all of your legal options, from filing an insurance claim to suing the driver or a third party such as the driver’s employer.