Oregon Distracted Driving Accident FAQs
What is a Distracted Driving Accident?
A distracted driving accident is a motor vehicle collision caused by distracted driving behavior, i.e., any non-driving activity a driver engages in while operating a vehicle such as texting, talking on a hand-held cell phone, eating or entering data on a navigation system. In each of these cases the driver will take their eyes off of the road, hands off the steering wheel, and their mind off driving tasks. We have all seen examples of a talking driver swerve into another lane without signaling or a texting driver stopped at a green light with their head buried in their cell phone. In the time it takes to read a simple text message the average vehicle will have traveled 150-250 feet, without the driver seeing or anticipating potential accident threats.
How prevalent are distracted driving accidents?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), during daylight hours, roughly 800,000 drivers are using a hand-held cell phone. In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in distraction-affected crashes, and 424,000 people were injured, accounting for 10 percent of all fatal crashes in the nation, 18 percent of injury crashes and 16 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in 2013 (NHTSA).
The Oregon State Police report that distracted driving accidents have become so prevalent that they have surpassed DUIIs as a cause of car accidents and currently averages 10+ accidents per WEEK.
A State Farm Insurance study released in late 2012 found that among drivers age 18 to 29, 48% accessed the Internet on a cell phone while driving, 36% read social media networks while driving, and 43% checked their email while driving. Today, cell phone ownership is more than 50% higher than in 2012, and the number of drivers who engage in distracted driving activities using a hand-held device has reached historic levels.
What is Oregon Law regarding Distracted Driving?
Originally enacted in 2010, Oregon’s ban on operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile communication device (ORS § 811.507), makes it a Class “C” offense to use a hand-held communications device will you are driving. There are many exceptions to the law, such as permitting drivers 18 and older to use a “hands-free” accessory such as a blue tooth earpiece while driving. In 2014, the basic fine for violating the law was almost doubled to $250 plus fees, with a $500 maximum fine for repeat offenders.
Criminal penalties can be much more severe if a distracted driver collides with another vehicle or pedestrians and causes injuries. For example, a Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge sentenced a young woman to 5 months in jail after she crashed into 3 pedestrians in a crosswalk causing them serious personal injuries. At the time of the crash, the 24-year-old distracted driver was taking a cell phone video of her 3-year-old son in the backseat while she was driving.
How are distracted driving accident cases (and lawsuits) different than a typical car accident case?
A distracted driving accident may be more than just negligent driving, it could be considered gross negligence or reckless driving, which could lead to prosecution for offenses or crimes such as careless driving, reckless driving, and reckless endangerment. Depending on the particular circumstances, the conduct could also be the basis for punitive damages in the civil claim for personal injuries Distracted driving could be considered an aggravating factor and would likely lead to a higher case value as often happens in drunk driving accident cases.
Even if distracted driving is the cause of the car accident in Portland, the distracted driver’s insurance company will try to minimize it and will not automatically increase the value of your injury case. In my experience, it takes hiring an experienced Portland personal injury attorney to apply the right kind of pressure on the distracted driver and their insurance company. As I do in drunk driving accident cases, I would file a lawsuit against the distracted driver. Then I would file a motion with the court presenting evidence of the distracted driving that caused the crash and my client’s injuries. In that motion, I seek court permission to amend the Complaint and add a claim for punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish bad conduct and deter others from doing it. Then, when punitive damages are officially part of the case, I will discuss settlement with the distracted driver’s insurance company. The settlement value will typically increase significantly at this point.
Is distracted driving an indication of who is “at-fault” in causing the accident?
Not necessarily, but it is a violation of Oregon law. The facts of how the car accident occurred will determine who is at fault. However, violations of distracted driving laws may be particularly suggestive of fault, because the laws are meant to eliminate distracted driving – meaning a person who texts and drives is negligent of their duty to drive carefully and avoid accidents. Because texting and driving creates a significant risk of accident, even a driver who is hit by a speeder or someone running a red light may be held at least partially responsible if texting at the time of the accident was a contributing cause of the crash. Texting and driving laws give insurance companies an opportunity to assign a significant portion of fault for the distracted driving accident to the driver who was paying more attention to the phone instead of the road.
How can you (or your lawyer) determine if the other driver was using their cell phone at the time of the accident?
The best way is to request that the police officer who responded to the accident scene determine if the other party was on their cell phone at the time of the accident. This might involve the police officer interviewing the other driver and all witnesses, and looking at the driver’s cell phone call logs if he has probable cause to do so. If there was no police investigation and you still suspect that the other driver was distracted by using their cell phone, then it will take a lawyer using the legal process to discover the facts.
This can be done by taking depositions under oath of the other driver and witnesses, and subpoenaing phone records from the driver’s phone company.
Also, a private investigator might be able to obtain similar information from interviews with the driver and witnesses, prior to the at-fault driver retaining an attorney.
In a distracted driving accident, how can I recover compensation for all of my injuries and property damage?
The best way to deal with a complex distracted driving accident case where the at-fault driver may have violated distracted driving laws is to hire a lawyer experienced in distracted driving accidents. Remember, a distracted driving case may be more than just negligent driving, it could be considered gross negligence or reckless driving. This conduct could become the basis for punitive damages in the civil claim. Distracted driving could also be considered an aggravating factor and would likely lead to a higher case value.
Is it considered distracted driving to receive directions from an app like Google maps? How about an Apple watch?
If you are holding your phone and looking at it while you are driving, then you are clearly a distracted driver. This would also be the case if you are inputting an address or other information into a device. On-the-other-hand, if your phone is hands-free, or you are using a speaker or blue-tooth earpiece to receive directions, then you may not be a distracted driver. The Apple watch presents some interesting legal questions. Technically an Apple phone is not a “hand-held” device, but you can make calls and text on the device, which obviously takes your eyes and attention away from driving. These are the very actions distracted driving laws target.
Where can I find additional educational resources on distracted driving accidents?
For more information on distracted driving and other resources visit our blog: Distracted Driving in Oregon: The Dangers of Technological Distractions.
 Source: http://www.multivu.com/mnr/56793-state-farm-fourth-annual-survey-shows-significant-use-mobile-web-vehicle, and http://www.multivu.com/players/English/7292854-state-farm-distracted-driving-survey-cellphone-use/.