New Hampshire’s Legislature recently enacted a “hands free driving” law that went into effect on July 1, 2015. The purpose of the law is to outlaw texting while driving and other distracting use of hand-held electronic technology by motorists. Under the new law drivers are prohibited from using any mobile electronic devices including, but not limited to, cell phones, tablets, navigation devices, or any other electronic hand-held device, while operating a motor vehicle. “Driving” is defined by the Act to include any action or inaction while the driver’s vehicle is on a public “way,” which includes even those moments when the driver is stopped in traffic or at a stop sign or light.
Limited exceptions are permitted for emergencies and use of CB radios. Drivers are also allowed to use “hands free” Bluetooth enabled devices, and can activate such devices manually, so long as such activation does not require more than minimal manipulation. Talking, typing, or entering data into a handheld device is strictly prohibited, with fines of $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense, and $500 per offense after that.
Another consideration that is not spelled out in the statute, but will likely become an issue for civil litigants within a short period of time, is its impact on lawsuits involving claims of negligent driving. Violation of a statutory safety standard may be the basis of a finding of “per se” liability against a defendant who has caused an injury after failing to abide by the statutory standard of conduct.
Simply put, if a driver causes an accident because they were distracted due to use of an electronic device, it may now be much simpler to achieve finding that they were “at fault” for the accident and any resulting injuries in a lawsuit. This is something to consider, both if you are the injured victim of a distracted driver, or a driver considering whether to pick up that cell phone and return a text while moving down the highway at high speed.