In 2015, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in auto collisions involving distracted drivers. Cell phones are a common and pervasive cause of distracted driving. At any given daylight moment, an estimated 542,000 drivers are using handheld cell phones.
If you have been involved in an auto accident in Arizona and believe the other driver was distracted by cell phone use, it will be necessary to prove liability due to distraction. Here is what you need to know.
Arizona cell phone and texting laws
All states ban some or all people from texting while driving – except Arizona and Montana (see map below). Arizona also has no statewide hand-held cell phone ban. The state does ban school bus drivers from using any cell phone.
However, Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson and Flagstaff have taken it upon themselves to ban texting while driving. Pima County and Coconino County have also made texting while driving illegal. Tucson, Tempe and Coconino County also forbid any cell phone use without a hands-free device.
Cell phone use and distracted driving
If you can prove the other driver was using a cell phone at the time of the auto accident, you will go a long way to showing that the distracted driver was liable for the collision. The driver may be deemed negligent due to cell phone use if he or she:
• Looked away from the road to dial a phone number, send a text message, or look up something on a map app or the internet.
• Drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the cell phone.
• Was distracted by his or her own cell phone conversation, or by a passenger’s cell phone conversation.
Proving the other driver was using a cell phone at the time of the accident
Here are some ways to prove distracted driving caused the accident:
• After the accident, you’ll call the police, and the officer will generate a report. If you saw the other driver using a cell phone, report this immediately to the police officer. In some cases, the police officer may have witnessed the other driver on their cell phone. The drivers’ insurance companies, attorneys and, if it goes to court, the jury will take the police officer’s report into consideration when assessing fault.
• Immediately following the accident, you should seek out witnesses and obtain their names and contact information. The police will also typically solicit statements from witnesses. Witnesses include bystanders who saw the accident or any passengers in the vehicle(s) at the time of the accident. These people may have observed the driver texting or talking on the phone. Again, the police officers, insurance companies and attorneys will take the witnesses’ statements int account to determine liability. Should the case go to court, the attorneys may subpoena witnesses to testify about the driver’s actions.
• In some cases, the driver may admit to being distracted by a phone call or text. This, of course, is less common than having to prove the other driver was liable.
• Police and attorneys may subpoena the driver’s cell phone records. If it can be shown the driver was sending a text message at the time of the accident, this could prove the driver was distracted. In some cases, it may not even be necessary to show the driver was texting at the exact moment of the accident. In one case in Massachusetts, cell phone records showed that a driver had sent 193 text messages on the day of the deadly car crash. That was enough to prove he was liable.
• Occasionally, police and attorneys can secure photos or videos that reveal the driver on a cell phone. These might include video surveillance footage, smartphone videos shot by drivers or passengers in other vehicles, or police dash cameras. These videos can produce strong evidence for distracted driving.
Consulting with a personal injury attorney
It is next to impossible for the average private citizen to obtain the cell phone records of another private individual. The same holds true for video surveillance footage or police dash camera footage. Those are some of the many reasons it is smart to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney in a cell phone accident liability case. An attorney can subpoena cell phone records and video footage, seek out witness testimony, and work with experts to recreate the accident scene. Your attorney will also handle all the communication with the insurance companies and the other driver’s attorney(s).
The Lamber-Goodnow Personal Injury Law Team offers free consultations for accident victims. There are no up-front costs and no obligation. We get paid only when you receive a favorable settlement.
For more information on what to do after an accident to help build a strong case, read our article here.