California Distracted Driving Car Accidents

California distracted driving

Distracted driving is just as dangerous — if not more — than being a drunk driver. If you shouldn’t drink and drive, you shouldn’t text and drive, either. What does distracted driving mean to California motorists?

Distracted driving often refers to mobile phone use and texting behind the wheel, but it encompasses many other things, too. Anything that takes your eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, or mind off of driving is dangerous. Learn about just how dangerous it is and what you can do to avoid distractions.

Approximately 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured each day in the U.S. in crashes reported to involve a distracted driver.

Distracted driving is when the driver performs any other activity while behind the wheel that takes their attention away from the primary task of driving.

There are three types of distraction:

  1. Visual: Anything that takes your eyes off the road.
  2. Manual: Anything that takes your hands off the wheel.
  3. Cognitive: Anything that takes your mind off the task of driving.

Distracted driving can include anything from eating a sandwich or reaching for your coffee, to reach to the backseat, applying makeup or shaving, looking in your mirror at a crying child in their car seat, playing loud music, or adjusting dashboard settings like climate control or sound.

But the distracted driving hazard that gets the most attention is the use of handheld electronic devices like smartphones. Mobile phones are among the most dangerous distracted driving hazards because they combine all three types of distraction.

Facing factsThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that when you send or read a text message, your eyes are off the road for an average of 5 seconds, which is the time it would take to drive the length of a football field if you’re traveling 55 miles per hour.

The most recent NHTSA data also reports:

  • 9% of fatalities in 2017 were reported as related to distracted driving
  • 3,166 people were killed in 2017 crashes by distracted drivers
  • 15- to 19-year-olds have the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of a fatal crash
  • 599 people killed in distracted driving accidents in 2017 were not occupants of any involved vehicles (pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.)
California distracted driving fatalities in 2017
Sending or reading a single text while you drive is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed. Don’t #textanddrive! Tweet this

Is distracted driving only a problem for teens?

Although drivers under 20 years old have the highest rates of distraction-related fatalities, distracted driving is definitely not just a teenage problem. It’s an everyone problem.

For one thing, a distracted driver puts everyone else on the road at risk.

In a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 42% of high school students reported sending texts or emails while driving within the month prior to the survey.

The students who reported frequent texting while driving also were less likely to wear a seatbelt, more likely to ride with a driver who had been drinking, and more likely to drink and drive.

However, in a survey conducted by AT&T, 98% of drivers who are regular mobile phone users said they are aware of the dangers, but 75% of them still text and drive regularly.

  • Two-thirds of drivers have read texts while at a red light.
  • More than a quarter of drivers have sent texts while driving.

Many of these adults said the reason why they continue to text and drive, even though they know it’s dangerous, is because they’re afraid of missing out on something—or because they think people expect an immediate response to a text.

And yet, many of these people likely would never drink and drive.

But is responding to that text as important as someone’s life?

Officials hope that apps, public education, and tougher laws against texting and driving will gradually change behavior so that people will begin to see texting and driving for what it is, which is as serious a danger as driving under the influence (DUI).

Is texting and driving as dangerous as driving drunk?

Yes, texting and driving is as dangerous as driving drunk.

How do we know?

Car and Driver performed a test to see how drivers’ reaction times were impacted by texting and driving, compared to drunk driving.

To perform the test, the car was fitted with a light mounted on the windshield that would simulate a car’s brake lights. The drivers were instructed to hit the brakes when the light went on. The test took place on an open runway with no obstacles, and the drivers were using typical phones.

Take a look at their findings:

Test Driver #1 (age 22) Driver #2 (age 37)
When driving 35 miles per hour
Baseline reaction time 0.45 seconds 0.57 seconds
Reading a text 0.57 seconds (extra 21 feet) 1.44 seconds
Writing a text 0.52 seconds (extra 16 feet) 1.36 seconds
Alcohol-impaired 0.46 seconds 0.64 seconds
When driving 70 miles per hour
Baseline reaction time 0.39 seconds 0.56 seconds
Reading a text 0.50 seconds (extra 30 feet) 0.35 seconds (extra 90 feet)
Writing a text 0.48 seconds (extra 31 feet) 0.68 seconds (extra 319 feet)
Alcohol-impaired 0.50 seconds (extra 15 feet) 0.60 seconds

As you can see, the result showed that both drivers were as slow or slower to react when reading or writing a text message than when they were alcohol-impaired.

And yet, although most people understand the danger of drunk driving, they still consider it acceptable to read or write a text while behind the wheel.

California distracted driving laws

It’s illegal in California to use a mobile phone or other electronic device in your hand while driving. You’re permitted to use it hands-free with Bluetooth, voice commands, or in speaker mode. A driver under 18 years old may not use a mobile phone for any reason while driving.

Under California law, you may use a mounted GPS while driving if you can operate it with a single finger swipe or tap.

Both Android devices and iPhones now have settings that you can use to put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode while you’re driving, which can be programmed to send customized auto-replies to text messages when the car is in motion.

Penalties for using a mobile phone while driving in California

If you’re caught using your phone while driving, you’ll be charged a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense. However, the base fine doesn’t include additional fees and assessments, so the dollar amount could be significantly higher.

If you ignore a mobile device ticket, you can be found guilty of failure to appear in court on a traffic citation. That can result in up to 6 months in county jail or a fine of up to $1,000.

The only exceptions to California’s mobile device laws are:

  • A manufacturer-installed phone system embedded in the vehicle
  • An emergency services provider who is operating an authorized emergency vehicle
  • A call made to emergency personnel, like 911
  • The driver of a school bus or transit vehicle
  • A person is driving on private property

10 safe driving tips to avoid distracted driving

Here are 10 tips for how to stay safe in the car:

  1. Never hold your phone in your hand. If you need to use it as your GPS, mount it to the dashboard so you can see the map without taking your eyes off the road. Turn off other notifications so you’re not seeing other banner or pop-up notifications on the map while you’re driving.
  2. Silence your phone before getting in the car.
  3. It’s not just about texting — don’t use any apps or social media while driving. If you need to send a text or look at something, pull over where it’s safe to do so.
  4. Don’t text or call someone if you know they’re likely to be driving.
  5. If you can’t resist looking at your phone when it buzzes, keep it somewhere you can’t get it, like in the back seat or trunk, so that you’re not tempted to sneak a peek.
  6. Don’t eat or drink while driving.
  7. If you listen to music or podcasts from your phone while driving, queue your selections before you go so you don’t have to touch your phone while behind the wheel.
  8. Don’t allow your passengers to be a distraction.
  9. If you drop something on the floor of the car, either leave it there until you’ve reached your destination or pull over to retrieve it.
  10. Regardless of what’s happening outside the car, don’t use your phone to make videos while driving. If you feel like recording traffic is useful, purchase a separate Dash Cam that can record without driver intervention.

How a distracted driving ticket affects a personal injury lawsuit

Under California law, negligence is defined as failing to use reasonable care to prevent harm to yourself or someone else. If the personal injury is the result of a car accident, the driver who caused the accident is negligent and would be required to pay for damages.

There’s a difference between a “regular” car accident and a car accident that involves distracted driving: It can be hard to prove which driver was at fault in a car accident.

But when one driver is violating a statute or ordinance (like using their mobile phone), it becomes negligence per se, which means that they are presumed negligent because they were violating the law at the time the accident happened.

What to do if you’ve been in an accident with a distracted driver

Unfortunately, proving distracted driving can be challenging.

Phone records can tell part of a story, but they don’t help if the distraction was something else like checking their makeup in the mirror or adding sugar to a cup of coffee.

That’s why you might need to hire a California personal injury lawyer. Many personal injury lawyers offer a free initial consultation, at which time you can set forth any evidence you have and explain why you believe you’re the victim of a distracted driver. If you end up needing to file a lawsuit, your lawyer can help frame the facts to help your case before a judge or jury.

Begin your search by checking out our list of qualified, experienced California personal injury lawyers to find a firm that’s near you and best-suited for your case.

Here are some additional resources to help you begin the process:

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Distracted Driving
Business Insider, “Texting And Driving Is An Even Bigger Problem Than We Realized”
NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts
Car and Driver, “Texting While Driving: How Dangerous Is It?”

Free personal injury guides for download to print or save. View all downloads.

Tell your story:
Tell your story - What would you want others to know? Tell us what happened in your accident, and how life has changed for you.

Find an attorney:
Search our directory for personal injury law firms.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.