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Jeremy Thurman
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Bad Bill to Ban Cell Phone Use While Driving Passes Senate

3 comments

In a prime example of a good idea gone bad, the Oklahoma Senate has once again thrown a proverbial “bone” to insurance companies in Oklahoma. According to newsok.com “the Senate voted 30-14 on Wednesday for a bill that defines distracted driving to include the use of any personal communication device, including a cell phone.”

Once again, our illustrious Oklahoma Senate has put the cart before the horse. While I’m a staunch advocate against cell phone use while driving, this bill effectively makes a finding of distraction no matter the facts of the collision simply because one was on a cell phone.

Before analyzing the fallout and motives behind the bill, it’s important to acknowledge up front that this bill has nothing to do with limiting cell phone use. How do I know that? One has to only look at the article which states “the bill prohibits police from making routine traffic stops of motorists specifically for violations of the act.”

So what do we have so far? First we have a bill that does not give law enforcement power to enforce a limit on cell phone usage beyond much more than an automobile accident.

Secondly, that same bill makes an automatic finding (by law) that someone who uses their cell phone while driving and is involved in an accident is distracted and accordingly partially at fault. One only needs to read between the lines as this is clearly an insurance driven bill designed to get a legal finding of contributory negligence regardless of the facts of the collision.

Let me give you a prime example of the dangers of this bill. I once litigated a case where a trucking company attempted to make a defense that my horribly injured client was contributory negligent simply for being on a cell phone. The facts of the collision were that a semi at full speed crushed my client’s car without braking as she was slowing with her signal light on to make a turn.

Now that fact scenario may seem beyond logic but the Trucking Company went so far to hire a so called expert to opine that by the simple fact my client was honest about being on her cellular phone, she thus was distracted and did not take evasive action from the semi behind her. No fact existed to support this other than cellular phone studies showing an increased risk in accidents. In reviewing the cited literature I immediately noticed that not a single study cited dealt with the cause of the crash, who was at fault and what type of crash was involved with use of the cell phone. My gut feeling is that the studies involved drivers who hit someone from behind, not innocent drivers who were hit from behind.

Given the Oklahoma’s legislatures recent willingness to do whatever big insurance asks of them, I highly suspect nefarious motives behind this bill. While I do not fault members who voted for this bill initially (as it sounds good on its face) the effects when examined could expose wholly innocent drivers to automatic findings of distraction regardless to the cause of the accident.

Once again, I fully support bills limiting cell phone use (primarily texting) but cannot favor such a broad sweeping legislation that will seriously impinge upon the rights of innocent Oklahoma drivers harmed by the negligence of another.

3 Comments

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  1. Mike Bryant says:
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    That is crazy, is anyone asking the questions you are. Why are they bowing to insurance interests and not really looking to protect people. So the person driving by doesn’t get stopped on the phone, but if they are rear ended they have fault? So who is contributing the the campaigns of the authors of these great ideas?

  2. Truckie D says:
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    Not giving the police the power to enforce a law seems to be a little bit silly to me.

    On the other hand, I agree with the idea that someone on a cell phone is automatically considered partially at fault in a crash.

    Let me explain my reasoning. If we were to substitute “driving while intoxicated” for “cell phone use” in the legislation, I think there would be many who would support such a bill.

    A story at: http://www.newyorkinjurynews.com/2009/07/24/cell-phone-usage-equivalent-to-drinking-behind-the-wheel_20090724501.html says in part “Research also found that use of cell phone while drinking could actually be as detrimental as driving with a blood alcohol level of .08.”

    Even though there may be an automatic finding of fault, I would think that it would still be up to a court to apportion the blame on a case by case basis.

    Furthermore, making people aware of such a law might induce them to stay off the phone while driving, even when there’s nobody around to enforce it.

    As for the case you mentioned, had your client been over the legal limit, how would that have affected the outcome of the case?

    td

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    I wonder how far our elected officials will sell us to corporate interest?