What is Considered Distracted Driving in North Carolina?

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Closeup of a distracted man using his cellphone while driving.

In North Carolina, there are over 250,000 car accidents each year. In this state, distracted driving causes roughly five times as many accidents as driving while intoxicated. The majority of these distraction-related driving errors are easily avoidable. For this reason, many people are referring to DWD (driving while distracted) as the new DWI. Driving while distracted contributed to 54,133 accidents in North Carolina in 2017. Twenty-five thousand two hundred thirty-seven people were hurt in these collisions, and 152 distracted driving car accident victims passed away. The stark reality is that distracted driving is to blame for 19.7% of reported North Carolina crashes overall. Moreover, distracted driving accounts for 27.3% of collisions involving drivers under the age of 18 in North Carolina. Nationwide,  ​8.1% of all car crash fatalities were due to distracted driving in 2020.  As can be seen, distracted driving is a prevalent modern issue that leads to a myriad of needless injuries and deaths.

What Is Distracted Driving?

So what is distracted driving, exactly? Distracted driving is simply engaging in any activity while driving that diverts your attention or causes you to lose focus from the road. Using a cell phone while driving is the most common issue and the main focus of state lawmakers. However, distracted driving can also involve anything from adjusting the A/C to searching for directions on your phone. While potentially harmful, the majority of distracted driving behaviors are entirely legal. Even if you don’t watch the local news every night, you probably already know that distracted driving is an issue.

Are There Distracted Driving Laws in North Carolina?

Yes. Currently, North Carolina state law forbids texting and emailing while driving. In addition, underage drivers with provisional licenses are not allowed to use cell phones while operating a vehicle, including hands-free cell phone usage.  However, there is one exception to this rule. When making a call to their parents or emergency responders, drivers under the age of 18 are allowed to use their cell phones while operating a vehicle.  Cell phone use while driving is also forbidden for school bus drivers.

Adults above the age of 18 can call and text while driving using hands-free speech technology, with the exception of school bus drivers (even with a hands-free device). Any driver, regardless of age, is not allowed to text with their fingers while the car is moving, under any circumstances.

North Carolina’s “Hands-Free Bill”

The most recently proposed North Carolina legislation, the  “Hands-Free Bill,” House Bill 144, would have prohibited using portable devices while driving. Additionally, it would have rendered “distracted driving” unlawful, which implies that a police officer might issue a citation for engaging in any activity that might be seen as distracting, including eating, drinking,  or applying eyeliner. The state House approved this legislation. However, it was killed in the Senate over the summer of 2019.

This does not imply that the battle to pass such a bill is over. However, until that time, it is still acceptable to eat while driving in this state. Remember that engaging in lawful distractions while driving, such as eating or changing the radio, can dramatically raise your risk of an accident or erratic driving. It is, therefore, preferable not to engage in these activities while driving.

What Differs Between Primary and Secondary Distracted Driving Law Enforcement?

If the police observe you breaking a state’s distracted driving regulation and have the authority to pull you over,  it is known as primary enforcement. If the police can only issue a citation for distracted driving if you simultaneously violate another rule, it is known as secondary enforcement of distracted driving legislation.

North Carolina practices primary enforcement of distracted driving legislation. This means that even if you’re following all traffic laws and feel like you’re in complete control of your car at the time, you could still get pulled over and given a ticket if a police officer sees you writing a text or email while operating a motor vehicle.

What Is the North Carolina Fine for Distracted Driving?

The following penalties apply to distracted driving offenses in North Carolina:

  • $100 fine for sending texts or emails while driving
  • Underage cell phone use with a temporary license costs $25
  • $100 penalty for using a cell phone while operating a school bus.

How To Prevent Distracted Driving

According to EndDD.org, more than 90% of drivers are aware that mobile phone distractions are risky and find it “unacceptable” to text or e-mail while driving. Yet 35% of them continue to do it. Practicing safe driving begins with each of us. The following are some possible strategies to stop texting and driving:

  • Switching to silent mode on a phone
  • Turning off your phone
  • Putting your phone somewhere out of the way, like the trunk or in a bag
  • Choosing to eat inside the restaurant or while parked in a parking lot
  • Loading map directions prior to departing.

Is There a Way for Technology To Help Stop Texting and Driving?

Yes. There are technology and programs to prevent texting while driving, or at least to reduce it to some extent. When the phone senses you are in a moving vehicle, for instance, a specific “do not disturb” mode for iPhone users disables calls and texts. Technologies that limit calls from coming into your phone can be helpful, particularly when you consider how to keep your adolescent driver safe. For instance, Cellcontrol’s DriveID invention created a stir a few years ago. When the car is moving, the gadget mounts on your dashboard and turns off all phone and SMS features (other than emergency services).

Car Accident Lawyers at Tatum & Atkinson Can Help

In North Carolina, if a driver causes a collision in any way, they may be barred from receiving compensation. “Contributory negligence” is the name given to this strict legal concept. However, if you were texting while driving and were hit by a careless motorist, your texting while driving was not always a contributing factor in their negligence. Even if texting did not cause the collision, the negligent driver may still be required to pay damages. It is best to speak with a vehicle accident attorney to see whether you can pursue compensation if your case involves complex circumstances, such as texting while driving.

Accidents involving distracted drivers frequently happen, despite our best efforts to prevent them. You might suffer a major injury at any time, which can drastically alter your life when involved in a car accident. If you have been injured in an accident involving distracted driving, do not hesitate to contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Tatum & Atkinson, ‘the Heavy Hitters’ today to receive your no-cost case evaluation. Call us today at (800) 529-0804 or contact us online to speak with an experienced car accident lawyer in North Carolina and see what legal options may be available to you.