The Real Cost of Distracted Driving in California
Distracted driving comes in many forms: from texting and talking on a cell phone to using GPS to eating fast food on the go, there are many ways that you can become distracted while driving. While most instances result in spilled coffee or a minor fender-bender, sometimes distracted driving costs people their lives.
Distracted driving-related deaths reached 3,400 in 2015, after steadily increasing. As traffic deaths increased to the highest level in most people’s lifetimes, legislators began looking at ways to crack down on the most common form of distracted driving: cell phone usage while operating a vehicle.
California’s distracted driving penalties
The widespread use of cell phones has undoubtedly significantly contributed to the rise in traffic-related deaths. Almost all states have laws banning talking on cell phones while driving. California is one of only 14 other states that has taken the fight against distracted driving, and specifically the use of cell phones while driving, one step farther: effective January 1, 2016, all motorists under the age of 18 are prohibited from using any kind of communications device while driving and adult motorists are prohibited from using a cell phone unless it is by way of a hands-free device, except for in some emergency situations.
Motorists who are caught driving while using or holding their cell phone potentially face a range of penalties. While the fine themselves may seem minor--$20 for the first offense and $50 for the second—the addition of fees and costs result in a hefty bill.
How distracted driving can land you in jail in California
However, if a passenger in your vehicle, another motorist, or a pedestrian is killed as a result of your distracted driving, the penalty will affect more than your wallet: you could be facing serious jail time.
In California, a motorist can be charged with vehicular manslaughter if distracted driving led to the death of another. Vehicular manslaughter is a wobbler, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The circumstances of the case, your prior criminal history, and the degree of negligence exhibited will all be considered by the court in determining whether you will be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
A misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge can carry up to one year in county jail while a felony vehicular manslaughter conviction can result in a six-year state prison sentence.
Defenses for vehicular manslaughter
If you have been charged with distracted driving, it’s important to act quickly before evidence disappears and the memories fade. There are several defenses to vehicular manslaughter that California recognizes:
- You were not the one driving at the time of the accident;
- Your actions were not negligent;
- You were not the direct cause of the victim’s death
An experienced criminal defense attorney can review your case and determine if any of these defenses will apply.
The penalties for distracted driving in California are severe and can cost you more than just fines – it can cost you your freedom. Don’t let distracted driving ruin your future: contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney today.