California Tragedy is a Reminder That There is More Than One Kind of Distracted Driving

A case headed for California’s courts offers a pointed reminder that there is more to ‘distracted driving’ than cellphones. According to the Orange County Register, a man in southern California has been charged with vehicular manslaughter for causing a baby’s death because he “was distracted by a laptop sliding off his passenger seat.” In California the charge of “vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence” caries a potential sentence of a year in jail.

According to the paper, the fatal car accident took place last September. It began when the driver, as he crossed some railroad tracks, turned his attention to a laptop sitting in the passenger seat that he feared would slide out of its bag. As a result, he “did not notice that the traffic in front of him had stopped” and rear-ended the vehicle in front of him. That vehicle, in turn, lurched forward, striking an Australian tourist who was making her way across a crosswalk with her baby in a stroller as well as her 11-year-old niece and 7-year-old nephew.

The woman and the 11 year old were struck and injured by the car at the head of the chain-reaction accident. The baby was launched from her stroller, landing “approximately 70 feet away,” the newspaper reports.

Legally-speaking, this tragedy, were it to happen here in Oregon, probably would not qualify as Oregon distracted driving, a term we generally reserve for violations of Oregon’s ban on texting and the use of cellphones without a hands-free device (California has similar laws). That would not mean the victim’s family wouldn’t have legal remedies, such as an Oregon wrongful death or Oregon negligent driving lawsuit.

From this distance, and at this time, the important lesson this case offers us here in Oregon is the reminder that cellphones are far from the only distractions drivers need to be aware of when they are behind the wheel. If you or a family member have been the victim of a motorist distracted by something besides a cellphone when they should have been paying closer attention to traffic and the road, consulting a Portland car accident attorney at the earliest possible opportunity is a key first step in protecting your rights.

Orange County Register: Distracted Driver Charged in Baby’s Death