Distracted Drivers

In order to discourage Washington drivers from driving on our highways and roads while distracted, in 2008 the Washington legislature enacted two statutes that prohibit the use of a cellular telephone or texting while driving.

RCW § 46.61.667 prohibits the use of a wireless telephone while driving, except under the following circumstances:

  • when the device is in a hands-free mode
  • to report illegal activity
  • to call for medical or emergency assistance
  • to prevent injury to person or property

Similarly, RCW § 46.61.668 prohibits the sending, reading, or writing of text messages while driving. The violation of these statutes is a traffic infraction and may provide a basis for liability when a crash occurs and people sustain injuries.

In addition to cell phone use, there are many other ways that drivers may be distracted while driving. Examples include tuning the radio, putting on makeup, eating food, or tending to children and pets in the car. The King County Code prohibits inattentive driving, which could include these and other distractions. King County Code section 46.20.010 states that it is illegal for a person to operate a motor vehicle in an inattentive manner, and defines “inattentive” as “a negligent lack of attentiveness to conditions, circumstances, and one’s duties required to safely operate a motor vehicle.” KCC § 46.20.010 states that inattentive driving shall be included in the offense of negligent driving in the second degree, under RCW § 46.61.525.

As discussed more extensively in our page on Rules of the Road, violation of a statute is evidence of negligence under Washington law. Violation of a statute does not, in and of itself, prove negligence. Unlike some other states, Washington does not follow the legal principle of “negligence per se,” under which violation of a statute is absolute proof of negligence. In Washington, judges and juries are permitted, but not required, to find that a person was negligent based on the fact that traffic laws were broken.

However, if a person is found to have committed “negligent driving” due to inattentiveness, it is inconceivable that the person would not be considered negligent for purposes of an injury claim resulting from their inattention. For this reason, any evidence of inattentiveness is extremely useful in proving fault for a crash.

If you are involved in a car crash, take note of anything you see that may indicate that the person who hit you was distracted. Could you see them speaking on their cell phone in your rear-view mirror? Is there a makeup bag or partially consumed food on their passenger seat? If the other driver tells you they were distracted, make sure to pass that information along to any police that report to the scene, and make a note of what they said. This may be important in proving fault.

Our lawyers regularly handle injury claims resulting from crashes caused by distracted drivers. We know what to look for to prove your case, and how to convey that information in a way that will garner the best settlement possible. Although we always try to obtain full compensation through settlement negotiations, we prepare every case as if it is going to trial so that if the insurance company refuses to pay full and fair compensation, we are prepared to recover the full value of your claim through trial.

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