Even though many of us may not want to admit it, at some point in our lives, most of us have operated a motor vehicle as a distracted driver. However, what is distracted driving, exactly, and why should Montana residents be concerned about it?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2011, an estimated 387,000 people were injured in a car accident involving a distracted driver. Furthermore, over 3,300 people lost their lives in such accidents. To raise awareness about the issue, NHTSA has established a dedicated web page on the issue, which defines distracted driving as any activity that takes the attention of a driver of any vehicle away from the main task of driving the vehicle. This is not limited to texting or using a cell, but also includes eating a burger, putting make-up on, shaving, changing a radio channel or using GPS.

In an effort to address the issue of distracted driving, many states have passed laws that ban texting and driving. However, states laws vary from state to state and Montana currently does not have any laws that address distracted driving.

Despite the lack of a state law on the issue, some Montana cities, including Billings, have enacted bans on the use of handheld cell phone while driving. Regardless of whether there is ban on the use of handheld devices or not, all drivers have a legal obligation to obey traffic laws. Thus, in Montana, a distracted driver who causes a car accident that results in serious injury or death may be charged with reckless driving and even negligent homicide.

In addition to criminal charges, the motorist who has suffered harm or his or her family may be able to hold a negligent distracted driver civilly liable for damages. A personal injury lawyer may be able to help an injured party understand his or her rights and help in exploring legal options.

Source: Findlaw.com, “Distracted Driving,” accessed on August 5, 2014