Distracted driving is a leading cause of injuries and fatalities from car accidents. Many types of driver conduct qualify as distracted driving. For any driver, being distracted while driving can lead to liability for injuries caused by the conduct. It can also prevent a driver from recovering compensation for injuries caused by another driver. In some cases, distracted driving is illegal in Virginia. Everyone who drives should understand the dangers of distracted driving and make certain to avoid those types of activities while driving.
What Is Distracted Driving?
Operating a vehicle while preoccupied involves any type of conduct or activity that diverts a driver’s attention from the task of driving the vehicle. The distractions can be inside or outside the vehicle, but most often the diversions occur inside the vehicle.
Three different types of distracted driving can occur. The first is visual, which includes any conduct that leads the driver to divert their eyes from the road. Examples are reading or sending messages on a handheld device, looking at a passenger in the car, looking at a roadside accident, or general rubbernecking (looking at something outside the vehicle, other than the road and traffic). The second type is manual distraction, which includes activity that leads the driver to take their hands off the steering wheel. Common examples of this type of distracted driving include:
- Eating, drinking, and smoking
- Using any handheld device
- Putting on makeup or engaging in other types of personal care
- Watching a video or navigation screen
- Adjusting an audio device, like a radio, or adjusting other controls in the vehicle
- Reaching for objects
- Reading (which can be both visual and manual)
The third type of distracted driving is cognitive, which involves mental distractions that cause a driver to take their mind off the task of driving. This type of activity may include talking to a passenger, concentrating on work issues, thinking about leisure events and activities, or even focusing on a conversation on a mobile device.
When Is Distracted Driving Illegal in Virginia?
The Commonwealth of Virginia does not have a law that prohibits distracted driving. But there is a statute that makes it illegal to use a handheld mobile phone for texting or any other purpose. Handsfree devices are not covered in some situations. Prohibited conduct includes using at least one hand to hold a mobile phone, answering or calling by pressing more than one button, reaching for a mobile phone in a way that affects the proper seat belt position. The prohibitions include using a mobile phone while sitting at a traffic light.
The law provides exceptions, including use of devices by emergency services personnel, as well as:
- Communicating with law enforcement or emergency services
- Using a phone while pulled off the road or parked
- Using a GPS
While Virginia drivers generally may still communicate through a handsfree mobile phone while driving, certain prohibitions apply. Even handsfree use is not allowed in highway work zones or by commercial drivers, school bus drivers, or any driver who is younger than the age of 18 years.
How Distracted Driving Affects Liability and Compensation in a Virginia Personal Injury Case
Even if a type of distracted driving is not illegal, engaging in that kind of conduct can significantly affect a driver’s liability for an accident or an injured victim’s ability to recover compensation in a Virginia personal injury case.
In Virginia, a driver may be held legally responsible for injuries caused by the driver’s negligent conduct. Generally, negligence is the failure to use the amount of care that an ordinarily or reasonably prudent person would use in the same circumstances to avoid harming another person. In a personal injury case, negligence is demonstrated through evidence of the circumstances of an accident. If a driver engages in distracted driving activities and that conduct can be documented, the distracted driving may provide evidence of the driver’s negligence.
Virginia law also provides that a person injured by the negligent conduct of another driver (whether or not the conduct is distracted driving) can recover financial compensation from the at-fault driver. However, Virginia has a strict rule of contributory negligence that applies in all personal injury cases. The rule provides that evidence of an injured victim’s own negligent conduct can be a complete bar to any financial recovery. As such, if an at-fault driver (or their insurance company) can demonstrate that the injured person was engaged in distracted driving when the accident occurred, the victim may not be able to recover anything in a personal injury claim.
To put it simply, a driver who engages in any type of distracted driving may face legal consequences of their activities as both a claimant and a defendant in a personal injury case. Those consequences are in addition to the significant risks of injury to a driver, occupants of the driver’s vehicle, and people in other vehicles when a driver conducts themselves in a manner that constitutes distracted driving. They are also in addition to penalties imposed by Virginia law if the conduct constitutes illegal distracted driving.
Talk with our Virginia Personal Injury Attorneys
Our Virginia personal injury attorneys at Renfro & Renfro take pride in our client-focused approach to personal injury cases and our steadfast commitment to getting each client the full compensation they deserve. If you have any type of potential personal injury claim, we welcome you to call (804) 601-4433 or contact us for a free consultation.
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