Are CA distracted driving laws too restricted and difficult to enforce?

California bans texting and talking on handheld phones, but other phone use is legal; this makes enforcement challenging and allows dangerous distractions.

Most people in Encinitas appreciate the danger that distracted drivers pose. Still, many people may also believe they have a low risk of experiencing a serious distracted driving car crash, since California's laws against texting and handheld cellphone use give other drivers sufficient reason to avoid these distractions. However, in reality, the scope of California's current laws may still allow many distracted behaviors while making the enforcement of illegal behaviors difficult.

Modern distractions overlooked

California's ban on handheld cellphone use only specifically bans drivers from talking on their phones, according to The Los Angeles Times. The ban was passed in 2006, before the use of smartphones was widespread. This means that many distracting and potentially dangerous activities involving cellphones remain legal.

A state appellate court considered this issue in early 2014, when a driver contested a citation he received for using a map app on his phone. Lower courts held that the law intended to ban all uses of handheld cellphones, but the appeals court disagreed and stated the law was not intended as a comprehensive ban. The appeals court noted that if this was the case, drivers could also be cited for simply holding a phone in hand or glancing at it to check the time.

In 2009, California legislators enacted a law that addressed one new and significant source of distraction, texting while driving. However, this law also has limitations that may impede enforcement and allow drivers to continue with risky behaviors.

Strict burdens of proof

According to The Huffington Post, the law against texting while driving bans electronic communications, such as texts, emails and social media posts. However, drivers can still use their cellphones for other purposes, such as looking up contacts or directions.

These provisions can impede law enforcement authorities in citing drivers who are texting. To issue a citation, authorities must actually see a driver texting, emailing or using social media while driving. Obtaining this visual verification from a moving vehicle can obviously be challenging. Additionally, drivers may deny that they were using their phones for an illegal purpose.

If an officer cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a driver was communicating electronically, the citation will likely be dismissed. This means that many inattentive drivers may escape sanctions and lack incentive to change their behavior in the future.

Inattentive driving accidents

Data suggests that distracted driving remains common in California. In 2014, the Office of Traffic Safety reported the following facts, based on a 2013 survey of state residents:

  • A shocking 70 percent of drivers had been hit or nearly hit by distracted drivers.
  • To 36 percent of drivers, the most severe threat to driver safety was other drivers texting or talking on cellphones.
  • Of the drivers who talked on cellphones while operating their vehicles, 45 percent admitted to making driving mistakes.

If a driver's negligence contributes to an accident, victims can seek compensation for any injuries they suffer. Even injured passengers who were riding with the at-fault driver have the right to pursue compensation. However, securing compensation is not always straightforward; proving a distracted driver was violating the law can be difficult, and proving that a lawful action constituted negligence can also be challenging.

In light of these potential issues, anyone who has been hurt in a distracted driving accident can benefit from meeting with an attorney to discuss the accident and the available legal options.

Keywords: texting, distracted, driving, accident