Why is Distracting Driving so Hard to Prove After an Accident?

April 16, 2022
Why is Distracting Driving so Hard to Prove After an Accident?

In today’s digital age, it is not uncommon to be on the road and witness car after car go by, manned by drivers looking down and scrolling through their phones instead of keeping their eyes on the road. Distracted driving like this is a habit that could turn tragic in seconds.

In 2017, 16-year-old Pierre St. Brice was riding in a car with friends when they were hit head-on on a busy Atlanta highway by a distracted teen driver, Josh Murphy, who died at the scene. Pierre suffered from a spinal injury, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down and without hope of being scouted by colleges to play football. 

Unfortunately, the crash report did not say why Josh crossed the centerline, which is common with wrecks involving distracted driving. There is no true test like the tests available to determine a DUI. Despite that, distracted driving remains a dangerous threat on the roads, having claimed 3,142 lives in 2020.

What are some ways to prove that distracted driving was the cause of a car accident?

What is Distracted Driving?

Any activity that diverts a person’s full attention from safe driving is considered distracted driving and increases a driver’s risk of crashing. 

Texting is one of the biggest triggers of distracted driving. Even if someone takes their eyes off the road and onto their phone for 5 seconds while driving at 55 mph, that is like driving the length of a football field (100 yards). It is extremely dangerous because it involves all three forms of distraction:

  1. Manual
  2. Visual
  3. Cognitive

Additional forms of distracted driving that are common include:

  • Talking on a cell phone
  • Talking to passengers in the vehicle
  • Eating and drinking
  • Smoking
  • Daydreaming
  • Looking at something outside the vehicle
  • Changing a setting on the radio, climate control, or navigation system
  • Reaching for something on the dashboard, seat, or floor
  • Pets, insects, or objects moving inside the vehicle

Almost all of these driving distractions are under the driver’s control and can be avoided. 

Signs of Distracted Driving

For police, there are telltale signs that a distracted driver is behind the wheel – especially one who is texting – which include:

  • The cell phone is resting on the steering wheel. Texting drivers will often prop their phones on the steering wheel, so they’re looking up, but not looking at the road.
  • The driver’s head is always down. Police may not actually witness that a phone is in the car, but a sure sign there is one is if a driver is constantly looking down in an attempt to hide their phone.
  • The glow of a phone screen. Easier to catch after sunset, of course, the bright glow of a phone screen will light up a car when someone is texting and driving. 

What Kind of Evidence Can be Used to Prove Distracted Driving?

By gathering evidence through a thorough investigation conducted by police at the scene of a car accident in Oklahoma, it could be proven (albeit challenging) that distracted driving was the cause. 

Here are a few ways that will help the case:

  • Photos. Any photos taken at the accident scene could reveal that there were no tire marks from braking, which could prove that the driver was distracted and did not hit the brakes until it was too late.
  • Street video cameras or cameras. Often, there are cameras or video cameras installed at busy intersections or on off-ramps on highways, which can be used to catch texting drivers and whether or not they ran a red light or committed other traffic violations.
  • Cell phone records. An attorney can submit a subpoena to the suspected distracted driver’s cell phone company to access their phone records, showing how and when the phone was used right before the car accident. 
  • Text analyzer. Although not widely used yet, this form of evidence works like a police radar. Instead of detecting speed, it looks at frequencies from a driver’s cell phone to see if it is being used for texting.
  • Witness statements. Statements from surrounding motorists or pedestrians at or near the scene that saw what happened and what the distracted driver was doing before the accident could also be valuable. 
  • Police report. When the police arrive at the scene of an accident, the officer will prepare a police report, which can be used as evidence. 

What are the Distracted Driving Laws in Oklahoma?

Distracted driving laws vary from state to state. Here in Oklahoma, it is prohibited in general and requires drivers to  “devote their full time and attention to driving.”

There is also “The Trooper Nicholas Dees and Trooper Keith Burch Act of 2015,” a texting-while-driving statute in Oklahoma named after two state troopers who were hit by a distracted driver. The law makes it illegal for motorists to drive while using a hand-held “electronic communication device” to write, send, or read a text while the vehicle is moving.

Texting while driving is considered a primary offense in Oklahoma, which is not the same in other states. This means that a police officer can pull a driver over if he or she witnesses a driver using a cell phone to send a text message. The officer does not need to witness any other traffic violations to justify pulling a driver over. 

Oklahoma law does allow the use of cell phones while driving in emergency situations, such as communicating with 911, hospitals, doctor’s offices, fire departments, or law enforcement.

What are the Penalties for Texting and Driving in Oklahoma?

In addition to a $100 fine, texting-and-driving teens in Oklahoma cannot use their cell phones to make phone calls unless it is an emergency. If they violate this law, teen drivers may have driving privileges suspended. Adult drivers, however, may make phone calls while driving with or without hands-free equipment. 

If it is proven that a driver was texting and driving right before a car accident, which caused the accident, the driver may be held liable in a civil lawsuit for any injuries caused as a result.

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