Distracted driving is a huge problem in Louisiana. In fact, according to a study of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, at any given time, at least one of every eleven cars on the road is driven by someone using a cell phone. The Study was commissioned by the legislature in an effort to help policy makers understand how dangerous mixing cell phones and driving truly is. Specifically, a survey of street corner observers noted that on average 9.2 percent of drivers were using hand-held phones at any given time, slightly more than the national average. A summary of the complete results of the study can be found here.
Distracted driving leads to traffic accidents and facilities, and according to other studies, distracted drivers are at increased risk of crashing. However, despite a threefold increase in cell phone use in the last decade, crash trend data in Louisiana and nationwide has decreased overall. This does not mean that using a cell phone while driving is not a distraction or that distracted driving is not incredibly risky. Rather, some questions exist over how much the distraction contributes to a crash. Drivers tend to slow down when talking on the phone, which may be the reason crashes overall have not increased. The reality is that the risk posed by driver phone calls is difficult to measure, particularly distinguishing between handheld and hands-free phone calls.
Many different solutions have been proposed to deal with the distracted driving problem. For example, a Baton Rouge firm is selling a new device that actually restrict cell phone calls and messaging when the user’s vehicle is moving. State and federal legislators have proposed changes as well.
Current Law in Louisiana and Proposed Changes
Right now it is illegal in this state for any driver to text. What’s more, it is illegal for novice drivers and those 17 and younger to use the phone at all. Some wonder, though, if that is enough. State Rep. Austin Badon of New Orleans doesn’t thing so and is bringing a bill this year that would ban hand-held cell phone use by drivers across. The same proposal failed last year. Badon discussed his legislation with the Times Picayune in a recent article and said:
There’s more credible evidence this year that Louisiana needs to go hands-free… Louisiana needs to be on the front end of passing this legislation.
Badon is not the only one with something to say about this hot button issue. Rep. Neil Abramson of New Orleans has filed a bill that would make it easier to find fault in a collision if one of the drivers was using a hand-held communication device. If passed, this legislation would affect those who go to trial to recover damages after a car accident occurs because it would make it easier to prove negligence. Rep. Charmaine Marchand Sitaes, also of New Orleans, has filed a bill to prohibit licensed commercial drivers from using hand-held phones while on the road. Given that the current texting law only calls for a traffic violation as a secondary action when someone is pulled over for another infraction (like speeding), Sen. Butch Gautreaux of Morgan City has proposed legislation to create a primary offense for drivers who text.
Proposed Changes to Federal Law
U.S. Senator David Vitter also has ideas. Vitter is currently co-sponsoring a bill that offers federal incentives to states that outlaw hand-held phone calls and texting while driving. The bill would direct the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to make $94 million in federal grants to states that enact such laws so that they can start national education programs on the issue and make other traffic safety improvements.
Louisiana’s other Senator, Mary Landrieu, is co-sponsoring a bill to prohibit drivers from texting, taking away federal highway funds from states that don’t pass their own legislation.
Overall it is important to know that liability for accidents can lead to culpability issues and problems with insurance companies or, at worse, the law. Through discovery or fact-finding efforts on the part of their attorney, someone involved in an accident can find out answers to what caused a collision. By doing this, responsibility can be attributed to the individual texting while driving and justice for the victim of a client can be achieved.