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Louisiana proposes ban on all social networking while driving

Nowadays, it seems like Louisiana drivers try to tackle nearly every task while driving -- eating, putting on makeup, shaving and of course talking and texting on cell phones. Although such multi-tasking may seem like an efficient use of time, it can and does lead to serious car accidents.

A panel of the Louisiana Senate recently addressed some of drivers' distractions. In particular, they are focused on drivers' use of social networking while driving. Louisianans may assume that social networking is already addressed by the state's current texting and driving laws. It is not, however. Using things like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram while driving is currently not illegal.

Police have discovered this loophole. When pulling over drivers who they thought were texting and driving, the police actually learned that the drivers were "posting to Facebook" or "tweeting," and thus did not fall within the scope of the texting and driving law. The Senate's proposed legislation will fill this gap. If passed, the proposed law will make it a crime "to access, read or post to a social networking site."

Those involved in a car collision with such a distracted driver may not understand the implications of the current and new law on liability in a civil action. There is actually little difference.

Under general negligence theories, a driver owes a duty to act reasonably when operating a vehicle. Although current Louisiana law outlines that texting while driving is illegal but makes no mention of using Facebook, both would likely be considered negligent. In other words, if a plaintiff shows that a defendant engaged in either activity while driving, it is likely that a fact-finder would find that the defendant breached the duty of care. Both activities are seemingly unreasonable and dangerous while driving. In a case involving a driver that was texting and driving, it may simply be easier for the plaintiff to show this breach by highlighting that such conduct is a crime under Louisiana law.

The law often changes with new advances and focuses in society. Sometimes the law does not evolve quickly enough, leaving gaps and possible questions as to liability in car accident cases. The reasonableness standard applied in negligence cases usually closes such gaps and will allow a person injured in a car accident by a distracted driver to recover.

Source: The Advocate, "Tweeting ban bill advances," Will Sentell, April 12, 2013

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