San Mateo cracks down on distracted driving

Distracted driving has been featured many times in the media as of late for good reason: distracted driving is a proven danger. Government statistics show that texting while driving, which is a form of distracted driving, can impair a driver's reaction time just as severely as having a blood alcohol level at the legal limit. In addition, drivers using hand-held cellphones are four times more likely to have a car accident that is severe enough to cause injury.

However, despite all of the gristly details about the dangers of distracted driving, many drivers in California and nationwide choose to continue engaging in the activity. To bring the dangers of distracted driving to the attention of drivers, many states, including California, have declared April to be Distracted Driving Awareness Month. To observe the occasion, law enforcement in San Mateo have declared a "zero tolerance" initiative for drivers who fail to observe California's distracted driving laws.

Under the initiative, San Mateo traffic and patrol officers will work together with other law enforcement agencies across California to conduct operations that target illegal cellphone use and texting each week throughout April.

California's texting laws

In California, it is illegal to write, send or read a text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle. However, texting is permitted on voice-operated and hands-free devices. Violation of the texting law is an infraction, punishable by a fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.

Similarly, it is also illegal to use a hand-held cellphone while driving. However, hands-free models are permitted. Additionally, using a cellphone to summon emergency help (e.g. police, ambulance or fire department) is legal under the law. Like the texting law, violators of the cellphone law face a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses.

Under the law, drivers under 18 years of age may not use a hand-held or hands-free cellphone while behind the wheel, except to summon emergency services. Violators face fines of the same amount as the cellphone law.

If you are injured, consult an attorney

The relatively small fines may be the least of a violator's worries, if he or she injures or kills someone else. Under California law, distracted driving can be considered a form of negligence. Victims who are injured by negligent drivers can hold the driver civilly liable for damages resulting from the accident, such as medical bills, pain and suffering and wage losses. If the victim is killed in the accident, the driver can be held liable in a wrongful death lawsuit.

If you or a loved one have been injured by a distracted or inattentive driver, contact an experienced personal injury attorney. An attorney can advise you of your right to compensation and work to hold the responsible party accountable.