Overview of distracted driving statistics and Montana laws designed to prevent distracted driving
The term “distracted driving” refers to any non-driving activity that has the potential to distract a person from the primary task of driving. The most common example is texting, and it’s certainly the most troublesome.
Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 miles per hour this is the equivalent of driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.
Distracted driving isn’t just limited to texting though. In addition to tasks like applying makeup, eating, and adjusting the radio dial, distracted driving includes talking on a hands-free device.
This is because a driver talking on a hands-free device may experience inattention blindness. “Inattention blindness” is when a person fails to notice something fully visible because their attention is focused on a task other than driving.
Distracted driving statistics
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 3,157 fatal crashes involving distracted drivers in the United States in 2016, accounting for 9% of all fatal crashes.
In Montana, distracted driving is particularly problematic. In 2017, there were 60 distraction-affected fatal crashes, accounting for 34% of all fatal crashes. What’s more, there were 211 distraction-affected crashes resulting in serious injuries and 1,731 resulting in minor injuries.
From 2008-2017, the most distracted driving accidents in Montana occurred in the following 3 counties:
- Missoula County
- Yellowstone County
- Flathead County
Common driver distractions
The NHTSA identifies 3 main types of distractions:
- Visual distractions - something that causes a driver to divert their attention from the road
- Manual distractions - something that causes a driver to remove one or both hands from the steering wheel
- Cognitive distractions - something that causes a driver’s mind and focus to wander to something other than the task of driving
Of course, as we previously mentioned, not all driving distractions are caused by cell phone use. Other common sources of distraction include:
- Adjusting audio and climate controls
- Lighting or putting out a cigarette
- Eating food or drinking
- Styling your hair
- Managing children or pets
Montana laws to prevent distracted driving
Montana is the ONLY state in the country that doesn’t have a statewide law restricting the use of cell phones while driving in some manner. Though it’s not for lack of trying.
The Montana legislature has attempted to pass laws banning or restricting the use of cell phones at least twice in recent years. Representative Virginia Court introduced legislation in 2015 to ban texting while driving, and the bill came within 1 vote of passing. A similar bill was put forward in 2018, but the bill didn't even make it out of the Judiciary Committee.
Last year, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety found that Montana is “dangerously behind” in adopting laws for distracted driving and the organization gave the state a failing grade for traffic safety.
Nevertheless, some cities across the state have acknowledged the dangers of distracted driving and implemented ordinances restricting the use of hand-held devices while driving.
Specifically, Billings, Bozeman, Columbia Falls, Hamilton, Great Falls, and Whitefish all prohibit handheld cell phone use of any kind while driving. Helena prohibits all handheld cell phone use, but its law also extends to bicyclists. Missoula prohibits texting and driving. Both Butte-Silver Bow and Anaconda-Deer Lodge have countywide bans on handheld cell phone use while driving.
What about commercial vehicles?
Certain commercial vehicles are subject to federal regulations regarding distracted driving. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration restricts texting and the use of hand-held mobile phones by truck and bus drivers operating a commercial motor vehicle. The law imposes stiff fines and penalties for those drivers who fail to comply with the rule.
For purposes of federal regulations, a “commercial motor vehicle” is any motor vehicle used on a highway to transport passengers or property when the vehicle:
- Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more
- Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers for compensation
- Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers and is not used to transport passengers for compensation
- Is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous
How does distracted driving impact liability in a car accident?
When one driver (the “plaintiff”) sues another driver (the “defendant”) for damages caused by a car accident, the plaintiff must generally show that the defendant’s carelessness caused the accident. In the legal world, this carelessness is called “negligence.”
In many cases, negligence can be proven by showing that the other driver was using their cell phone or was otherwise distracted immediately before the accident.
What if I get hit by a distracted driver?
Distracted driving can cause a variety of injuries:
If you’re hit by a distracted driver, make sure you’re out of harm’s way and then take the following steps:
- Call the police. In Montana, all drivers are legally required to remain at the scene and call the police if someone is injured in an accident. The police will conduct a small investigation and write a police report that could help prove liability down the road. The police can include information in their report about any potential evidence of distracted driving (such as incriminating statements by the distracted driver or the presence of a cell phone).
- Exchange information. Make sure you get the other driver’s name, contact information, insurance information, license plate, car make and model, and driver’s license number.
- Get witness information. This is crucial, because witnesses are notoriously difficult to locate after an accident.
- Photograph the scene. Use your phone to take pictures of the cars, injuries, and anything else that might be relevant.
- Receive medical attention. Make sure to see your doctor and document your injuries. This documentation will help support your insurance claim or lawsuit down the road. It may help to use a post-accident journal and expense worksheet.
- Talk to an attorney. Even if you’re not sure a lawsuit is necessary, a lawyer can help you decide how to proceed.
Oftentimes, you won’t know if the other driver in your accident was distracted or not. An experienced lawyer can develop evidence of distracted driving by obtaining cell phone records, video evidence, talking to witnesses, and deposing the driver. Try our free Montana personal injury law firm directory to find an attorney in your area who is knowledgeable about distracted driving car accidents.