Understand how Montana’s stance on texting and driving impacts your liability and compensation after an accident
Distracted driving remains a leading cause of traffic accidents across the United States, and Montana is no exception. With the rise in smartphone use and other digital devices, the temptation to divert attention from the road has never been greater.
But what does Montana law have to say about the use of hand-held devices while driving?
In this article, we’ll shed light on the current distracted driving laws in Montana, offering readers a comprehensive overview of what is legally permissible behind the wheel. We’ll also explain how distracted driving can impact your liability and compensation in the event of an accident.
What can be considered a distraction while driving?
Distracted driving refers to any behavior that averts a driver’s attention from the road, encompassing a wide range of activities that can reduce a driver’s awareness, decision-making or performance, potentially leading to accidents or near-accidents.
Common forms of distracted driving include:
- Texting and using a smartphone. This is one of the most hazardous distractions, as it combines visual, manual and cognitive distractions.
- Talking on the phone. Even hands-free talking can divert attention from the road.
- Using navigation systems. Setting or adjusting GPS devices while driving can also be a distraction.
- Adjusting music or controls. Changing radio stations, adjusting the music player, or manipulating car controls for even a few seconds is enough to cause an accident.
- Eating and drinking. Eating or drinking can take your hands off the wheel and your focus away from driving.
- Grooming. Applying makeup, shaving or any other form of grooming while operating a vehicle is considered distracted driving.
- Talking to passengers. Engaging in conversations with passengers can also be a significant distraction.
- Reaching for objects. Trying to pick up items from the floor or backseat also takes attention off the road.
- Watching videos. Looking at a video screen instead of the road ahead is an extremely dangerous form of distracted driving.
Because distracted driving is a leading cause of road accidents and wrongful deaths, it’s crucial to recognize and minimize these distractions whenever possible.
What states have distracted driving laws?
The short answer is all of them except Montana. As of August 2023, when Missouri banned the use of hand-held phones while driving, Montana became the only state in the U.S. without a statewide ban on texting and driving.
Efforts to introduce legislation to prohibit texting and driving in Montana have repeatedly failed, with opposition citing concerns over effectiveness and infringement on personal rights, among other reasons. In fact, Montana Senator Jeremy Trebas not only opposes a state ban on texting and driving, he also wants to overrule the bans already enacted in cities and towns across Montana, as reported by USA Today.
According to Senator Trebias, “These laws are going to make the roads more dangerous because people are just going to hide it and put the phone lower in their car instead of keeping their phone up and their eyes up.”
Despite resistance among state lawmakers, the Montana Department of Transportation highlights the significant risks of texting while driving, supported by national statistics showing a rise in fatal crashes involving distracted drivers.
In 2021 alone, 3,522 people died in car crashes across the U.S. due to distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The sad reality is that 100% of those deaths were preventable.
So, can you talk on the phone while driving in Montana?
Yes. Montana does not have any laws prohibiting drivers from talking on the phone or even texting while driving. However, all drivers need to be aware that these behaviors have been shown to increase the chance of accidents and fatalities on the road.
How does distracted driving impact liability in a Montana car accident?
In Montana, distracted driving can significantly impact liability in a car accident due to the state’s modified comparative fault rule. This legal principle allows for the allocation of fault among all parties involved in an accident, adjusting compensation accordingly.
Under Montana’s system, a party can recover damages as long as they’re found to be 50% or less at fault for the accident. However, the amount of compensation they receive is then reduced by their percentage of fault.
So, if a driver is found to be distracted at the time of the accident (e.g., texting, talking on the phone, or any other form of distraction), this behavior can be considered negligent and contribute to their percentage of fault.
Distracted driving, being a form of negligence, shows a failure to exercise the level of care that a reasonably prudent driver would under similar circumstances, thereby impacting the fault determination.
Here’s an example:
Imagine a scenario where Driver A is texting and driving and collides with Driver B, who is speeding at 10 mph over the speed limit. In this case, both drivers have contributed to the cause of the accident through their negligent actions. Suppose the court determines that Driver A is 60% at fault for the accident due to distracted driving, while Driver B is 40% at fault for speeding.
If the total damages from the accident amount to $100,000, under Montana’s modified comparative fault rule, Driver A would not be able to recover any damages since they’re more than 50% at fault. However, Driver B could recover damages, but the amount would be reduced by their percentage of fault. Therefore, Driver B could recover $60,000, or 60% of the total damages, reflecting their lesser degree of fault.
This example illustrates how distracted driving and other negligent behaviors can affect liability and compensation in Montana car accidents, emphasizing the importance of maintaining full attention while driving to minimize legal and financial repercussions.
Do I need to hire a Montana car accident attorney after an accident with a distracted driver?
In most cases, yes. Hiring a Montana personal injury attorney after an accident with a distracted driver is crucial for several reasons, especially given the complexities of proving fault and navigating the state’s legal system.
Here’s why it’s essential:
- Expertise in Montana law. Personal injury attorneys in Montana are well-versed in state-specific laws, including those governing distracted driving and comparative fault. They can navigate the legal system effectively, ensuring that your claim complies with local regulations and statutes.
- Proving distracted driving. Proving that the other driver was distracted at the time of the accident can be challenging. An experienced attorney can gather the necessary evidence, such as cell phone records, eyewitness statements and accident reports, to build a strong case demonstrating the other party’s negligence.
- Negotiating with insurance companies. An insurance company’s goal is typically to pay you the minimal amount possible. A skilled personal injury attorney can handle the negotiations with insurers so you can receive fair compensation for your injuries, lost wages, medical expenses and other damages.
- Maximizing your compensation. Attorneys understand the full range of damages you may be entitled to, including those you might not have considered, such as pain and suffering or future medical care. They can accurately calculate your total losses to ensure your settlement reflects the true cost of the accident.
- Navigating comparative fault. Montana’s modified comparative fault system can complicate compensation claims. An attorney can help argue against reductions in your compensation due to alleged shared fault, ensuring you’re not unfairly penalized for the other driver’s negligence.
- Litigation support. If a fair settlement cannot be reached through negotiations, a personal injury attorney can take your case to court. They’ll manage all aspects of litigation, from filing the lawsuit to presenting your case before a judge or jury.
- Minimizing stress. Navigating the aftermath of an accident can be incredibly stressful. By enlisting the services of an attorney, you can concentrate on healing as they take care of all the legal and procedural details of your case.
- Zero initial fees. Many personal injury lawyers in Montana operate on a contingency fee basis, which means they only get paid if your case is successful. This setup enables you to seek justice and financial restitution without bearing any upfront financial costs.
Looking for the best car accident attorney in Great Falls, Montana?
Distracted driving continues to be a significant concern on Montana roads, posing risks not only to drivers but also to passengers, pedestrians and the broader community. Understanding the legal implications of distracted driving and knowing your rights is crucial, especially if you or a loved one has been injured in an accident involving a distracted driver.
At Murphy Law Firm, our team of knowledgeable Montana car accident attorneys brings over 75 years of combined experience to the table, specializing in helping injured Great Falls drivers navigate the aftermath of accidents with skill and dedication. We understand the challenges you face and are committed to fighting for the compensation you rightfully deserve.
If you’ve been affected by distracted driving in Montana, don’t face the legal process alone. Contact us today for a free consultation of your case, and let our attorneys provide the support and guidance you need to secure a favorable outcome.