Distracted driving is a serious problem in Oklahoma. According to the State of Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, distracted driving caused 3,500 deaths and 391,000 injuries in 2015. In the ensuing five years, Oklahoma has taken steps to reign in this problem.

Oklahoma has undertaken educational and public relations initiatives to reduce the risks of distracted driving. The state also passed laws to punish drivers who use cell phones in a way that affects their driving.

The consequences of using a cell phone while driving can include civil liability for the deaths, injuries, and property damage caused. When taking all of these risks into consideration, it comes down to this…using a cell phone while driving exposes a driver to substantial financial hazards.

Criminal Consequences for Using Your Cell Phone While Driving

Oklahoma has a few criminal laws that punish cell phone use while driving.

Texting While Driving

Oklahoma passed a law in 2015 to punish people who compose, send, or read text messages while driving. The law covers all text-based messages, including emails and instant messages. It also covers videos and photos.

Violations are punishable with a fine of $100. Oklahoma prohibits the DMV from adding points to a driver’s record for violating the cell phone law.

The statute excludes some hardware and software systems from its scope, such as:

  • Devices built into the motor vehicle
  • Voice-operated navigation systems
  • Voice-to-text applications

Using any of these systems would not be punished under Oklahoma’s cell phone law.

The texting-while-driving ban does not cover some forms of cell phone use. You can use a handheld device to make voice calls. Likewise, the law does not appear to apply to drivers who play games while driving. Finally, the law does not cover emergency use by first responders and doctors.

Commercial Driver Cell Phone Use

Oklahoma has a strict law against cell phone use by commercial drivers, public transit drivers, and school bus drivers. This law prohibits both texting while driving and handheld cell phone use to make voice calls.

Distracted Driving

Oklahoma has a law that allows law enforcement to issue citations to drivers who fail to devote their full time and attention to driving. The law only allows citations when the driver causes a car accident or drives in a way that poses a risk to the public.

The breadth of the distracted driving law would allow enforcement for cell phone use that does not violate the texting-while-driving law. This means that if a driver causes an accident during a voice call, the police could cite the driver under the distracted driving law.

Reckless Driving

Reckless driving occurs when a driver uses their vehicle in a careless manner that exhibits a disregard for the safety of others. A police officer could cite a driver who drives recklessly while using a cell phone.

For example, playing a game while driving might not be covered by the texting-while-driving law. But playing a game while driving could violate the distracted driving law or the reckless driving law.

Reckless driving is punishable by a jail sentence and a fine.

Negligent Homicide

If you cause a car accident and someone dies as a result, police could arrest you for negligent homicide. A negligent homicide charge requires that the driver operate the car in reckless disregard for the safety of others. Cell phone use might cause reckless driving if the driver creates a substantial safety.

For example, suppose someone live streams while driving at high speeds on a freeway. This might satisfy the level of recklessness necessary for a negligent homicide charge if someone dies because of the stunt.

Negligent homicide is punished by up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

Civil Consequences for Using Your Cell Phone While Driving

Regardless of whether a driver is charged with a crime, a driver can be held responsible for the economic damages and non-economic damages caused by cell phone use while driving. Damages can be secured through a personal injury lawsuit.

Personal Injury Lawsuit Based on Negligence

Oklahoma, like most states, uses an at-fault insurance system. This means the driver who caused an accident is responsible for the financial fallout from that accident.

To prove fault, a personal injury lawyer must show that the driver was negligent. 

Negligence has four elements:

  • Duty:  Every driver must drive in a reasonably safe manner.
  • Breach:  If a driver fails to drive in a reasonably safe manner, the duty is breached.
  • Damages:  The victim must suffer an injury or property loss.
  • Causation:  The driver’s breach of duty must be the cause of the victim’s damages.

A driver breaches the duty owed to the public by driving in an unsafe manner. Running a red light, speeding, or using a cell phone could constitute unreasonable behavior.

Personal Injury Lawsuit Based on Negligence Per Se

If a driver’s conduct violates a statute, that violation can potentially eliminate the victim’s responsibility to prove that the duty and breach existed. This is thanks to a doctrine known as “negligence per se.” Negligence per se means that a violation of a safety law is automatically considered to be a breach of a legal duty.

This means that the injured person must only prove damages and causation to win compensation for their injuries.

Oklahoma’s distracted driving laws, described previously, would likely qualify under this “negligence per se” doctrine. If a driver in an accident is cited for texting while driving or distracted driving, that driver is liable for the damages arising from the accident. The injured person only needs to prove that the legal violation caused the injury.

For example, suppose a delivery driver causes a truck accident while talking on a handheld cell phone. That driver violated Oklahoma’s commercial driver cell phone use law and distracted driving law. Negligence per se could be used as a shortcut to establish liability and recover compensation for any injuries caused by the accident.

Recovering Compensation for Injuries Caused by Cell Phone Use While Driving

Depending on the circumstances of the accident, your personal injury lawyer might have to investigate if cell phone use was a factor in the accident. This might require interviewing witnesses, collecting documents, or reviewing police reports. However, if cell phone use was involved, it could help to determine which party was the at-fault driver.

Likewise, if you were using your cell phone when you were involved in an accident, you might be found to be partially or completely at fault. This could prevent you from recovering compensation for your injuries and make you liable for injuries to others.