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Understanding Washington’s dangerously distracted driving law

On Behalf of | Jul 7, 2023 | Motor Vehicle Accidents

Distracted driving has been an ongoing problem in Washington and throughout the country for many years now.

Like most drivers, you have probably heard of distracted driving and know the dangers it represents. Distracted driving is generally defined as any activity that takes a driver’s attention away from the primary task of driving.

Distracted driving remains a huge problem

Distracted driving continues to be a factor in many serious or fatal car accidents in Washington. Despite the many educational campaigns directed at reducing the number of distracted drivers on the roads, many drivers continue to drive while distracted.

This prompted Washington lawmakers to add a new section to the state’s distracted driving law in 2017. The new section is called dangerously distracted driving.

Previously, the distracted driving law only addressed using personal electronic devices while driving. The new law adds dangerously distracted driving, which is defined as any activity not related to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle.

No definition of “dangerous” distractions

While the dangerously distracted driving law does not list out specific distractions, it is safe to assume that almost anything you do could potentially be considered a distraction, such as adjusting a navigation system, eating, drinking, talking to a passenger or applying makeup while driving.

Under the personal electronic device law, you still cannot use a hand-held personal device, such as a cell phone, while driving. You can use a hands-free device to make a phone call but cannot use the phone for any other activity. The dangerously distracted driving law is designed for distractions not involving your phone.

It is important to know that driving includes when you are stopped at a stoplight or a stop sign or sitting in traffic. If you truly need to use your phone to send a message or check something, pull over somewhere safe to do it.

Your options after an accident with a distracted driver

When you are injured in a car accident, it can be difficult to know if distracted driving was a factor. If you can show that the other driver was distracted, you might be able to prove negligence.

Negligence is the legal theory that personal injury cases are based on. In terms of car accidents, proving another driver was negligent means showing that they breached their legal duty to drive safely, and that breach caused your accident and resulted in your damages.

Washington uses a comparative negligence standard. This means that any compensation you are awarded through your personal injury action could be reduced by your own level of negligence.

For example, if you ask for $100,000 in damages, but a court determines you were 50% at fault for the accident, you will only receive 50% of your damages, or $50,000.

The importance of evidence

Therefore, having strong evidence to prove the other driver’s negligence will help increase the chance you receive your requested number of damages.

Evidence can include police reports, photographs of the accident scene or your injuries or medical records. Doing the right things after a car accident can make a huge difference in the outcome, so you should talk with a trusted professional.