Florida Prosecutors Focusing on Cellphone Use in Car Accident Cases

You don’t have to be Mario Andretti or Danica Patrick to realize that it’s impossible to dial a phone number or send a text while keeping both hands on the wheel. Yet this simple truth has not stopped drivers from calling, texting, even surfing the net, from the behind the wheel, all to the chagrin of state law enforcement and fellow drivers. Although Florida law does not currently prohibit the use of cellphones while driving, a driver who causes an auto accident while using a phone can face both civil liability and criminal prosecution.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune’ s Halle Stockton tells the story of Gregory McClure, for example, a Sarasota man whom Florida prosecutors have charged with felony vehicular manslaughter after he allegedly ran a red light while dialing his phone. The 29-year-old crashed into the driver’s side of another car, killing the 89-year-old driver.

The Herald-Tribune reports that “Florida lags behind most states, and even U.S. territories like Guam and the Virgin Islands, in enacting laws that restrict cellphone use while driving.” The Sunshine State is one of only nine states, including South Carolina and Arizona, without a law on the books restricting texting and dialing while driving.

Nevertheless, authorities are looking at cell phone use in car accidents to enhance both civil and criminal penalties against people who cause accidents while using a phone and driving. In determining whether a person was using a phone at the time of an auto accident, prosecutors aren’t simply taking people at their word. Stockton reports that prosecutors across the state are likely to subpoena cellphone records if phone use is at issue in a particular crash. Florida Highway Patrol officials told Stockton that they often become aware that a driver may have been using a cellphone from eyewitnesses and anonymous tips.

While cellphone records vary in time accuracy and are therefore used only to provide a rough estimate of when a driver was last on the phone, investigators say that they are an important piece in the puzzle. In 2006, prosecutors used phone records to show that a Tampa man was making a call when he crashed into another car, killing a 10-year-old girl. In a civil case arising from an auto accident, an experienced Florida personal injury attorney will always request drivers’ phone records.

Texting/dialing while driving bans have stalled in the state legislature in recent years, but that doesn’t mean lawmakers are going to stop trying. North Miami Beach Representative John Julien recently proposed a bill enhancing the penalties for drivers who commit a traffic violation while using a cellphone.

Car accidents often occur as a result of careless, inattentive or distracted driving, which can be caused by talking on the phone, sending text messages, eating and drinking and changing radio stations. The South Florida auto accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine work hard to zealously represent clients throughout the area, including in Hialeah, Pompano Beach and Boca Raton. If you were involved in a car collision, call Anidjar & Levine’s Fort Laurderdale office today at 800-747-3733 for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

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