December 23, 2014

Distracted Driving Accidents May Result in Vehicular Manslaughter Charges in California

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In California, driving under the influence is a crime. Using a handheld cell phone, or texting while driving, on the other hand, is a mere traffic violation under Penal Code 23123, also known as California’s “distracted driving” law. But there is little difference between a DUI and distracted driving if you injure someone as a result. And if you kill someone while using a handheld phone, you could face charges under Penal Code 192(c) PC Vehicular Manslaughter, which makes it a crime for a driver to kill another person by driving in an unlawful way, or in a lawful way that is, nevertheless, dangerous.

California Distracted Driving LawsDistrict attorneys in California have the discretion to prosecute vehicular manslaughter as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If convicted of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, you may face up to one year in a county jail. If convicted of felony vehicular manslaughter, you may face two to ten years in state prison.

It happened to a Costa Mesa man in 2008, when a jury found him guilty of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence after he killed a pedestrian while sending a text message as he was driving. And last month, a Bakersfield woman was arrested and charged with felony vehicular manslaughter for killing three people after she first ran a stop sign, and then a red light, while talking on her cell phone.

According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, texting while driving can delay a driver’s reactions as much as driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08, the current legal limit. The OTS and the California Highway Patrol report that more than 57,000 California drivers were ticketed for handheld cell phone talking or texting during April’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

A recent case suggests that courts are getting tougher on people who use handheld wireless devices while they drive, even if it’s just to look at a map of where they’re going. In December, a California appellate court ruled that holding a phone to check a GPS or other mapping application constitutes a violation of California Vehicle Code section 23123(a), which prohibits driving a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone. The court said that the distraction a driver faces when using his or her hands to operate a phone is present whether it is being used as a telephone, a GPS navigator, a clock or a device for sending and receiving text messages and emails.

The message that courts and prosecutors are sending is clear: if you look at your handheld phone while you drive, you might find yourself in need of a good lawyer.


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The acronyms DUI, DWI, OMVI and OVI all refer to the same thing: operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The most commonly used terms are DUI, an acronym for Driving Under the Influence, and DWI, an acronym for Driving While Impaired.
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