Distracted Driving and Car Accidents

Distracted driving is one of the primary causes of car accidents throughout the country. California has specific laws around mobile device use by drivers, which is a common form of distracted driving due to the increasing use of ridesharing apps like Lyft and Uber. In today’s blog, we will discuss the elements of distracted driving and the penalties for such behavior.

What Is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is when the driver performs any activity while behind the wheel that takes their attention away from their primary task of driving. Distracted driving often refers to mobile phone use and texting behind the wheel, as well as generally anything that takes your eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, or minds off driving.

The 3 types of distraction recognized in a case are:

  1. Visual – takes your eyes off the road.
  2. Manual – takes your hands off the wheel.
  3. Cognitive – takes your mind off the task of driving.

One of the most common uses of mobile phones is due to the prevalence of ridesharing apps like Lyft and Uber, which require drivers to actively engage with the app to plan their routes and pick up new passengers. However, in California, it is illegal to use a mobile phone or other electronic devices in your hand while driving. You are permitted to use the device hands-free with Bluetooth, voice commands, or in speaker mode, though any driver under 18 years old may not use a mobile phone in any mode while driving.

The state also allows drivers to use a mounted GPS while driving if they can operate it with a single finger swipe or tap. Note that both Android devices and iPhones now have settings that you can use to put your phone in Do Not Disturb while you’re driving, which you can program to send customized auto-replies to text messages when the car is in motion.


Under California law, negligence is defined as failing to use reasonable care to prevent harm to yourself or someone else, a common case in distracted driving offenses. Note that when a driver is violating a statute or ordinance of distracted driving laws, such as by using their mobile phone, they can be charged with negligence per se, which means they are presumed negligent because they were violating the law at the time the accident happened.

Statistics for Distracted Driving

A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 42% of high school students sent texts or emails while driving within the month prior to the survey. The students who reported frequent texting while driving were also:

  • less likely to wear a seatbelt,
  • more likely to ride with a driver who had been drinking, and
  • more likely to drink and drive.

In a survey conducted by AT&T, 98% of drivers who are regular mobile phone users said they are aware of the dangers, but 75% of them still text and drive regularly. Of these drivers, two-thirds have read texts while at a red light, and more than a quarter has sent texts while driving.

Many of these adults said the reason they continue to text and drive even though they know it’s dangerous is that they’re afraid of missing out on something. Texting while driving is as dangerous as drunk driving, and even the most minor distraction from your responsibility to the road could result in a major accident even resulting in death.


There are some exceptions to California’s mobile device laws, which are:

  • A manufacturer-installed phone system embedded in the vehicle
  • An emergency services provider who is operating an authorized emergency vehicle
  • A call made to emergency personnel, like 911
  • The driver of a school bus or transit vehicle
  • A person is driving on private property

Penalties and Sentencing

The penalties for distracted driving include minor violations of the state’s mobile device laws all the way up to vehicular manslaughter as a result of distracted driving. If you are caught using your phone while driving, you’ll be charged a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense. However, the base fine doesn’t include additional fees and assessments resulting from any other consequences of the distracted driving offense, so the amount could be significantly higher.

If you ignore a mobile device ticket, you can be found guilty of failure to appear in court on a traffic citation, which can result in up to 6 months in county jail or a fine of up to $1,000.

Contact a Lawyer for Representation Today

If you have been charged with negligent driving behavior due to distracted driving, contact a lawyer immediately to defend your case. As California has implemented specific mobile device laws, you will need an experienced attorney to defend your alleged use of the device, how you might qualify for an exception, and whether your distracted driving was the actual cause of the car accident in question.

Contact Hutton & Khalaf today to discuss your case in a free consultation with our attorneys.