The difference between drunk and distracted driving

Written on behalf of Abramson Smith Waldsmith LLP

While drunk driving and distracted driving can both cause motor vehicle accidents or even death, penalties vary widely in the state of California. The State of California website defines drunk driving as operating a regular passenger vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher. Driving under the influence will result in a DUI, and immediate suspension of driving privileges upon the first DUI offense.

Although driving under the influence can be extremely distracting, according to The National Law Review, legally a DUI is a separate charge from distracted driving. Distracted driving technically carries a much looser definition, and any form of distraction can lead to a motor vehicle accident, from texting while driving to children with unsecured seatbelts. However, most associate distracted driving with use of a cellphone or other mobile device while driving, whether texting, making a call or using applications on the device. Although distracted driving can seem innocuous, it only takes a moment to cause an accident and potential injury.

California, like 45 other states, bans texting while driving, but California also has one of the most lenient penalties. A first time offender can expect a $20 fine, with $50 fines for subsequent infractions. Compare this to the charge for drinking and driving, which can result not only in suspension of the driver’s license but up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The crime can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor in the case of injury, which also increases potential fines.

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