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Despite New Law, Gap Still Exists Between Drunk and Distracted Driving

A new law will take effect in January 2017 that aims to crack down further on distracted driving yet people arrested for drunk driving still face much stiffer penalties.

California residents have watched as the state's penalties for impaired driving have grown tougher and tougher over the years. Certainly it is important to prevent dangerous behaviors and to keep people safe yet it is equally important to treat defendants fairly. With this is mind it is understandable that many Californians wonder how the state can take such a different approach to penalties for distracted driving that it does for drunk driving.

Drunk and Distracted Driving Both Acknowledged as Dangerous

The California Office of Traffic Safety indicates that as many as 80 percent of all motor vehicle collisions involve some form of distraction on the part of at least one driver. Distractions can come in many forms. A person's hands, eyes or mind may all be diverted away from the act of driving in some type of distraction. The most dangerous distractions are those that involve the hands, eyes and mind of a driver versus just one of those three things.

Drunk Driving Penalty may Involve Distraction

Interestingly, one of the penalties that may be associated with a drunk driving conviction is the required use of an ignition interlock device. The California Department of Motor Vehicles explains that this may be the only way that a driver is allowed to regain the right to operate a vehicle again for a certain period of time.

In using an IID, a driver must manually hold the device to provide a breath sample. This naturally takes at least one hand off of a steering wheel during a rolling retest. A display may also need to be read and certainly a driver's concentration must be given to properly passing the retest.

Despite this reality, the state recently voted to expand the use of ignition interlock devices for people arrested for drunk driving.

Distracted Driving Crackdown Still Leaves it far Behind DUI Penalties

KSWB explains that in January 2017, any handheld use of a device may result in a ticket for a driver in California. While distracted driving laws may be getting tougher, distracted driving is still treated as a vehicular offense, not a criminal offense like drunk driving. The dangers may be similar and real but the penalties are far from similar.

It is also not known if the handheld use of an ignition interlock device could result in a driver being ticketed under the new distracted driving law or not.

Talk to an Attorney When Questions Arise

Given the sometimes ambiguous nature of the law, it is advisable for anyone arrested for drunk driving to contact an attorney. Learning exactly how the law may be interpreted is an important part in approaching a criminal defense.