Who is Liable for a Distracted Driving Accident in Ohio?

Post By Corey Heit

Strengthening Ohio’s distracted driving laws just before 2019 has not eliminated the dangers posed by people who make the choice to concentrate on anything other than safely operating their vehicles. Perhaps nothing could, but something needed to be done to address a public safety crisis that left more than 50 people dead in the state during 2018.

Reports collected by the Ohio Department of Transportation indicate that driver distraction played a role in causing 13,867 crashes that year. This prompted a department spokesman to note that each so-called accident “was 100 percent preventable” before also observing that “those are fathers, sons, daughters, mothers, aunts, uncles and grandparents that should be here right now.”

Pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcycle riders remain particularly at risk for suffering injuries or wrongful deaths in collisions caused by distracted drivers, This is due, in part, to the fact that even the most-attentive drivers can have trouble spotting people on foot and judging the speed and location of smaller vehicles. Letting one’s attention lapse just raises the likelihood of an avoidable tragedy occurring.

Except for the statistics, all of this is understood. Drivers know that becoming distracted behind the wheel is dangerous, even life-threatening. Drivers also know about Ohio distracted driving laws and the aggressive enforcement of those laws. Yet, people drive right on while taking their eyes and minds off their surroundings and the road ahead.

As a personal injury and wrongful death attorney in the Columbus area, I have come to believe that people drive while distracted because they have subconsciously convinced themselves that doing so is no big deal. “Everybody does it,” they reason while also assuming the best when they rhetorically ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

And since they don’t think they will crash, they assume they will not take the blame if they do hit and injure or kill someone. Nothing could be further from the truth. Distracted drivers will be held accountable for the harm they inflict. There are no what-if exceptions, as I explain.

But what if I only took my eyes off the rod for a second?

It only takes about 4 seconds to lose the opportunity to stop or change lanes in time to avoid a crash. Additionally, glancing up from the radio or returning your eyes to road after fishing for that last French fry and seeing a pedestrian in the crosswalk will do more to invoke panic than trigger defensive driving.

But what if my boss makes me use a GPS device and answer calls immediately?

The recently updated Ohio distracted driving law provides an exception for checking a dashboard-mounted GPS device, but even commercial truck drivers and delivery drivers must set down handheld electronic devices while are moving. Pull over if you really must take or make a call, manually update a package tracker or trip log, or reprogram your GPS.

But what if it my friends were horsing around?

The person who is actually driving has the legal duties to control the vehicle and avoid collisions. Unless someone else actually grabbed the wheel in the moments before a crash, the person in the driver’s seat will be held liable for causing property damage, inflicting injuries, or taking lives.

But what if the dog wouldn’t sit still?

The most recent revision of Ohio’s distracted driving law prohibits operating a vehicle while you have an animal in your lap. It will not matter if you placed your pet there, or if it snuggled up once the vehicle started moving. Use harnesses for dogs and carriers for other animals.

If you or a family member suffered injuries or died in a crash caused by a distracted driver, consider reaching out to Heit Law to discuss ways to hold the negligent individual accountable. With offices in Westerville, Corey Heit takes case in Columbus and throughout Franklin County. Call him at (614) 898-5300 to schedule a free consultation, or set up an appointment online.

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