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Distracted driving is a serious danger in Montana

Many Montana residents use smartphones and similar devices to stay connected with work, family and friends throughout the day. But when people use that technology behind the wheel, they create a serious risk to themselves and everyone else on the road.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, half a million people in the United States are injured each year in distracted driving accidents, and thousands are killed. Those most at risk of driving while distracted are young people; drivers under the age of 20 account for 16 percent of distracted driving accidents nationally.

By far the most dangerous distraction is texting while driving. Sending or receiving a text message takes about five seconds. In that amount of time, a vehicle traveling at 55 miles per hour goes the distance of a football field with a driver who may as well be blindfolded.

Most states have enacted laws to ban or restrict texting or the use of cell phones while driving. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia prohibit texting while driving. Twelve states and the District of Columbia ban drivers from using hand held cell phones behind the wheel. Amazingly, Montana is the only state which has no current laws banning texting or the use of other technology while driving.

All drivers have a legal duty to keep a lookout for other vehicles and pedestrians and to focus their attention on the task of operating the vehicle. A breach of this duty is negligence. If the negligence causes injuries, the distracted driver can be held liable in a civil lawsuit. The injured victims have the right to sue for compensation, including medical expenses, lost income and pain and suffering. If the distracted driving causes a death, the victim's family has the right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit and possibly recover damages.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Distraction.gov, "Frequently Asked Questions," accessed Aug. 26, 2014

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