Matthew Minner | March 10, 2021 | Car Accident
You create a danger to yourself and the people around you when you drive while using your cell phone. For this reason, Kentucky has imposed both criminal and civil liability penalties for cell phone use while driving.
Under Kentucky law, police could cite you for texting while driving. If you cause a car accident while using a cell phone, an officer could arrest you for any injuries or damage that you cause.
Here are some important things that you should know about the consequences of using your cell phone while driving in Kentucky.
Dangers of Cell Phone Use While Driving
About 15% of car accidents in the U.S. result from distracted driving each year. These distracted driving accidents cause over 2,800 deaths and 400,000 injuries annually.
Although many states have focused on imposing penalties on drivers who text while driving, research suggests that talking on a cell phone can distract a driver’s mind as much as texting. This holds true even if the driver uses a hands-free system for their conversation.
Kentucky Criminal Laws Regarding Cell Phone Use While Driving
Kentucky has many laws that could apply to cell phone use while driving. These are explored in detail below.
In 2010, the Kentucky General Assembly passed laws to:
- Prohibit texting and driving by all drivers
- Prohibit all cell phone use by drivers under the age of 18
- Prohibit all cell phone use by school bus drivers while transporting students
Law enforcement officers can enforce Kentucky’s texting-while-driving law as a primary offense. This means that a police officer could stop you for texting while driving, even if you have not broken any other traffic laws.
Reckless Driving Law
Law enforcement officers can cite you for reckless or careless driving if your cell phone use poses a risk to pedestrians or other vehicles’ “safety and convenience.
For example, suppose that you did not use your turn signal for several lane changes and turns because you had your cell phone in your hand. An officer could cite you for reckless or careless driving rather than giving you several citations for failing to signal.
Kentucky law imposes a fine of $20 to $100 for reckless driving. The Kentucky Department of Motor Vehicles records three points on your driving record for careless driving and four points for reckless driving. If you accumulate 12 points over two years, your license may be suspended.
Wanton Endangerment Laws
Wanton endangerment occurs when you knowingly disregard the substantial danger that your actions will likely injure someone else. A prosecutor could use the wanton endangerment law for a case involving cell phone use while driving.
For example, playing a game or watching a video on your phone while driving at highway speeds could justify a wanton endangerment charge. At 55 miles per hour, your car travels about 325 feet — more than the length of a football field — during a four-second distraction.
A prosecutor can charge wanton endangerment as a Class A misdemeanor or a Class D felony. This means that a conviction could result in up to five years of jail time and a substantial fine.
If you cause injuries while driving and using a cell phone, you risk a criminal charge for assault. In Kentucky, a fourth-degree assault occurs when you recklessly cause an injury using a dangerous instrument.
Recklessness only requires that you fail to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk. Everyone understands that the risks of distracted driving include the chance of injuries to pedestrians and motorists. A prosecutor could justify charging a driver with assault when a distracted driving accident causes injuries.
Fourth-degree assault could land you in jail for up to one year.
Kentucky does not have a vehicular homicide law. Instead, it has a reckless homicide law that prosecutors can use when someone dies in a car accident.
Recklessness merely requires that you disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death. The risks of cell phone use while driving are so well known that a prosecutor could charge you with reckless homicide if someone dies in a car accident caused by your cell phone distraction.
The consequences of a reckless homicide conviction include a jail sentence of up to five years.
Kentucky Civil Liabilities for Cell Phone Use While Driving
Kentucky uses a “choice no-fault” insurance system. This means that every insured driver in Kentucky has an automatic right to basic reparation benefits after an accident. The driver’s insurance company will pay up to $10,000 of these benefits.
If your bodily injury damages total less than $10,000, you will not need to file a claim with the insurer for the at-fault driver. Instead, you will file a claim with your insurer. This system speeds up insurance claim processing since the insurer does not need to determine which driver caused the accident.
But accident victims in Kentucky can waive basic reparation benefits and sue the at-fault driver. This suit can claim medical expenses and other economic damages from injuries, such as lost income and diminished earning capacity.
If the claim meets a defined threshold, the injured person can also include damages for pain, suffering, mental anguish, and inconvenience.
These thresholds are:
- $1,000 in medical expenses or
- Permanent disfigurement, a broken bone, loss of a body part or organ, permanent injury, permanent loss of bodily function, or death
Thus, a distracted driving car accident that results in severe injuries, such as a spinal cord injury, could expose the distracted driver to substantial liability for the damages caused.
Hiring a Lawyer After an Accident Involving Cell Phone Use
Whenever a car accident involves cell phone use, you should consider hiring a lawyer.
If you were the person using the cell phone, you could have substantial criminal and civil liability for any injuries and deaths that resulted from the accident.
If another driver used the cell phone, you might have claims against that driver and the driver’s insurer for your medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering.
In either case, a lawyer can help you to preserve all of your legal options.