Your guide to distracted driving accidents in the Last Frontier
Distracted driving is surging in the United States.
According to a report by Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT), distracted driving has risen more than 30 percent from 2020 to 2022. On average, drivers spend 1:35 seconds distracted per hour of driving.
There are all sorts of good reasons not to drive distracted in Alaska, starting with the fact that it may be illegal.
What is distracted driving?
Distracted driving refers to any non-driving activity that diverts your attention from driving. The most common example is using a cell phone while driving, but there are many other types of distracted driving behaviors:
- Eating or drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Adjusting the stereo
- Watching videos
Distracting activities tend to fall into 1 of 3 categories:
|Cognitive distractions||Visual distractions||Manual distractions|
|Taking your mind off the road (talking on the phone, talking to a passenger, etc.)||Taking your eyes off the road (watching a video, adjusting the radio, etc.)||Taking your hands off the wheel (grooming, eating, etc.).|
Texting is particularly dangerous because it falls into all 3 categories of distraction. Texting while driving causes approximately 1.6 million crashes every year in the United States, according to the National Safety Council.
Alaska’s cell phone-use and texting-while-driving laws
Alaska’s distracted driving law can be found in Alaska Statutes 28.35.161. Under the law, a person commits a crime if:
- While the vehicle is in motion, the driver reads or types a text message (or another non-voice message, such as an e-mail) on a cellular telephone, personal data assistant, computer, or any other similar device, or
- While the vehicle is in motion, a television, video monitor, portable computer, or any other similar visual display is operating and in full view of the driver.
The law has a number of exceptions, including:
- Cellphones and other electronic devices used for voice communication
- GPS and navigation systems
- Vehicle audio equipment and controls
- Reverse cameras and other displays intended to enhance the driver’s view
- Devices and equipment installed in emergency vehicles
If you’re pulled over and charged with violating Alaska’s distracted driving law, you face the following penalties:
|Alaska distracted driving penalties|
|Standard violation||$500 fine|
|If another person is injured||Up to 5 years in prison and up to $50,000 fine|
|If another person is seriously injured||Up to 10 years in prison and up to $100,000 fine|
|If another person is killed||Up to 20 years in prison and up to $250,000 fine|
In addition to the penalties outlined above, a ticketed driver will have two demerit points added to their driving record.
How common is distracted driving?
Alaskans largely believe that it is dangerous to text and drive. According to one survey, 99 percent of drivers in Alaska believe it is very dangerous to text and drive, and 76 percent think it is likely they will get into a crash if they text and drive.
Nevertheless, drivers continue to text and drive. According to a study prepared for the Alaska Highway Safety Office, 27 percent of Alaskan drivers self-reported at least some texting while driving. One reason for this may be that only 33 percent of Alaskans surveyed believe they will be ticketed for texting and driving.
Tips to avoid distracted driving
Understanding that distracted driving is a problem with deadly consequences, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) recently released the following 10 tips for avoiding distracted driving:
- Turn it off and stow it. Turn your phone off or switch it to silent mode before you get in the car. Then, stow it away so that it’s out of sight and reach.
- Spread the word. Record a message on your phone that tells callers you’re driving and will get back to them when you’re off the road, or enable this feature on your phone (if it is offered).
- Pull over. If you absolutely need to make a call or answer the phone, pull over to a safe area first.
- Use your passengers. Ask a passenger to make the call, answer the phone or respond to a text for you.
- Don’t text. Never text and drive, surf the web or read your email while driving. It’s dangerous and against the law in Alaska.
- Know the law. Keep in mind that every state has different laws regarding distracted driving. Familiarize yourself with the laws of each state that you plan to drive through.
- Prepare. If using your phone for GPS or listening, get everything ready before you start to drive. If you prefer a map or written directions, review them in advance.
- Secure your pets. Unsecured pets can be a big distraction in the car.
- Mind the kids. Pull over to a safe place to address situations involving children in the car.
- Focus on driving. Multi-tasking behind the wheel is dangerous. Refrain from eating, drinking, reading, grooming, smoking, and any other activity that takes your mind and eyes off the road.
How does distracted driving impact a personal injury claim in Alaska?
In Alaska, negligence is defined as “the failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to someone else on the road.”
If a plaintiff can establish that the defendant was using a cell phone (or engaging in some other distracting activity, legal or not) when the accident occurred, they can generally establish negligence.
What’s more, if the defendant received a citation for violating one of Alaska’s distracted driving laws, 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.”
What to do (and not do) after an accident caused by a distracted driver
If you’ve been in a car accident, proving that the other driver was distracted at the time of the accident can help support your claim that the other driver caused the accident. Here are some steps you can take following an accident to accomplish this goal:
- Call emergency services (911). If you’re injured, your first priority should be to get medical help as soon as possible. Remember, some symptoms don’t appear until hours or even days after an accident. What’s more, you’ll want to start accumulating medical records to support a future claim for damages.
- Tell the police. When the police arrive, be sure to tell them why you think the other driver was distracted. The responding officer can conduct an initial investigation and, if they find evidence that the driver was distracted, include this vital information in the police report.
- Gather information. Be sure to get the other driver’s contact information (their name, address, registration number, and license number). In addition, write down the contact information for any witnesses. Finally, take pictures of the scene, the damages, and anything else that’s relevant to the accident. If there’s any evidence that the driver was distracted, take a picture of it if you can do so safely.
- Contact an attorney. Proving that another driver was distracted can be challenging. Fortunately, experienced personal injury attorneys establish fault for a living. An attorney can subpoena phone records, review security footage, depose drivers and passengers, and take other steps to establish that the driver was negligent.
- Avoid social media. One of the first things a defense attorney will do is review all of your social media accounts for information that may hurt your case. The wisest course of action is to avoid posting about your accident altogether.