Distracted Driver Laws in Kentucky

by | Jun 2, 2022 | Car Accidents

We all make choices behind the wheel. We choose what time to leave, how fast to drive, and what route to take. We also choose whether we will focus on driving or multitask on other things. However, regardless of the choices we make, the same duty of reasonable care applies on every trip. This duty requires drivers to be at their best, mentally, physically, and otherwise, when they are behind the wheel.

Victims of distracted driving wrecks have choices as well. To obtain compensation after a wreck, a Lexington personal injury lawyer can normally use the ordinary negligence doctrine or the negligence per se rule, mostly depending on the facts of the case. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Types of Distraction

Hand-held cell phones get most of the attention when it comes to type of distraction. State and local law enforcement agencies usually highlight devices in their anti-distracted driving campaigns. This attention is understandable. These gadgets combine all three kinds of distracted driving, which are:

  • Cognitive (mind off driving),
  • Manual (hand off the wheel), and
  • Visual (eyes off the road).

Hands-free speakerphones, which are marketed as a safe alternative, aren’t much safer. In fact, driving while using a hands-free speakerphone is almost as bad as driving drunk.

Despite all the attention, electronic devices are only a small part of the distracted driving problem in Kentucky. Other causes, and much more common causes, of distracted driving include:

  • Talking to passengers,
  • Eating,
  • Adjusting the temperature,
  • Drinking,
  • Rolling up the window,
  • Daydreaming, and
  • Adjusting the radio.

All these activities, which occupy much of a driver’s time on almost every trip, involve at least two of the three types of distracted driving. So, eating a sandwich while driving isn’t quite as bad as yakking on a cell phone while driving, but it’s almost as bad.

Negligence Per Se

Basically, negligence per se is a violation of a safety law which substantially causes injury. These tortfeasors (negligent drivers) could be responsible for car crash damages as a matter of law. 

Kentucky has two primary distracted driving laws: the cell phone law and the distracted driving law. Both have rather limited applicability.

The first iPhone came out in 2007. Since then, especially as smartphones have become more sophisticated and more popular, many states have passed hands-free laws. In many jurisdictions, it’s illegal to hold or use an electronic device while driving, even if the motorist is sitting at a red light or sitting in traffic.

In the Bluegrass State, it’s illegal for drivers under 18 to hold or use a device. It’s also illegal for any driver to text and drive. “Texting” means sending or reviewing any text-based communication, such as a text message, email, or social media post. 

Almost all drivers are over 18, and almost all drivers use their phones for surfing the web, playing games, and doing things aside from texting. Additionally, this law is rather difficult to enforce. So, emergency responders don’t give out many cell phone tickets in Fayette County, even after a serious injury or fatal accident.

Kentucky’s cell phone law is so narrow that it’s almost meaningless. Kentucky’s reckless driving law is so broad that it’s almost meaningless.

Section 189.290 requires “the operator of any vehicle upon a highway [to] operate the vehicle in a careful manner, with regard for the safety and convenience of pedestrians and other vehicles upon the highway.” A highway is basically any public road.

On its face, this law could apply to pretty much any traffic violation. In practice, police officers only issue such citations for extreme violations, such as:

  • Driving more than 15mph above the posted limit,
  • Making erratic and unnecessary lane changes,
  • Following another driver too closely (tailgating),
  • Passing at an inappropriate time, and
  • Drag racing with another driver.

Frequently, police officers also issue reckless driving tickets if the motorist breaks two laws at once, or almost at once, like speeding while weaving in and out of traffic.

Distracted driving is nowhere on this list. In fact, distraction or inattention isn’t even an accident code for many law enforcement agencies.

Ordinary Negligence

As mentioned, all drivers have a duty of reasonable care. Drivers who breach this duty and cause wrecks are responsible for damages, whether or not they got a ticket.

For most jurors, using a cell phone while driving, reckless operation, and extended distraction are all breaches of duty. For example, if Rick is casually conversing with a passenger as he drives, that’s probably not a violation of duty. If Rick is having a heated argument with a passenger in the moments before a wreck, that’s different.

The same financial compensation is available in both ordinary negligence and negligence per se claims.

Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Fayette County and nearby jurisdictions.