Distracted driving in Pennsylvania: What you should know

Anyone who holds a driver’s license should have a profound understanding of the risks of distracted driving as well as Pennsylvania’s laws.

These days, most people in Pennsylvania are familiar with the term "distracted driving." Typically, you might call to mind someone texting on their phone while behind the wheel. And while that is a form of distracted driving, it is certainly not the only behavior that takes a driver's focus off the road.

To understand why this has become such a problem, it is imperative to read the statistics and be aware of the risks of several types of distractions. If that is not enough to deter people from participating in it, perhaps the state's laws are.

What is a distraction?

Anything that keeps a driver from exclusively paying attention to the task at hand is considered a distraction. There are three basic ways this can happen: the driver's eyes are not on the road (a visual distraction), the driver's hands are not on the wheel (a manual distraction), the driver's brain is not focused on driving (a cognitive distraction). Different activities could result in one or more of these types of distractions. For example, talking on a handheld phone can involve all three.

Of course, cellphone use has become the most talked about issue, but other unwise driving behaviors include the following:

  • Changing the radio station
  • Using a GPS
  • Interacting with passengers
  • Eating
  • Searching the car for something
  • Focusing on something outside the vehicle

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study that found that talking with a passenger could be just as distracting as using a phone, and using a speech-to-text system is even more dangerous than using a handheld or hands-free phone.

What is the law?

Pennsylvania is one of several states that prohibit all drivers from texting while driving. Specifically, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation notes that the ban applies to cellphones, smartphones, computers or other devices that could be used for instant messaging, emailing, surfing the Internet or texting.

As a general rule, Pennsylvania law does not prohibit people from talking on the phone while driving. (Many other states have categorically banned the use of handheld and hands-free devices.) Evidence that a driver was on a cell phone at the time of an accident is, however, admissible evidence in a lawsuit brought against a distracted driver, and the other driver's use of a cell phone may support an award of punitive damages against the distracted driver.

What is the risk?

The risks associated with distracted driving are frightening. According to a report from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, there were 13,964 motor vehicle crashes across the state involving a distracted driver in 2014. Of those, 49 were fatal.

Any car accident could cause serious property damage, but the physical injuries are often more devastating. Fortunately, Pennsylvania enables victims of car accidents to recover compensation from both the responsible party and (in most cases) the injured driver's own insurance policy. Insurance companies are supposed to fairly value claims that are made and pay accident victims accordingly, but the reality is that they almost never do. Obtaining the maximum amount from the other driver and from insurance companies virtually always requires that the injured person (or their family) retain a lawyer and file a lawsuit.

Accountability

In the long run, we are all safer if distracted drivers are held fully accountable for the harm they cause. If people are allowed to get away with dangerous behavior that could kill or injure someone else in the community, then that dangerous behavior will continue. When someone enforces their rights in the courts and a jury holds a distracted driver fully accountable, the roadways become safer for everyone.

People who wish to know more about their options should speak with a personal injury attorney in Pennsylvania.