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Distracted Driving, Communication Devices and Nebraska: A Summary of the Law

By: Jeffrey Lapin

Nebraska drivers are not immune from the distractions posed by the desire to “communicate” while driving. Nebraska enacted additional laws in 2010 to try and minimize distractions caused by these devices. However, Nebraska law currently only focuses on those items a driver brings into the vehicle. As noted in another article regarding new technology in motor vehicles, the law is still behind the technology.

Most states have laws regarding the use of handheld cellular phones and texting. Nebraska has both although they are both considered “secondary offenses,” meaning that law enforcement cannot pull someone over for simply using a cell phone or texting; they must commit some other traffic infraction before the penalties for their usage can be imposed.  Generally, there are 5 Nebraska Statutes that govern the use of cellular phones and texting while driving: 60-470.02; 60-4,120.01; 60-4,123; 60-4,124; and 60-6,179.01. These statutes use the terms “interactive wireless communication device” and “handheld wireless communication device”, which are defined similarly but do have some differences. Nebraska drivers holding a “Provisional Operator’s Permit”, a “LPD-Learner’s Permit”, a “School Permit” or a “LPE-learner’s permit” are prohibited from driving while using a “interactive wireless communication device,” which is defined as:

[A]ny wireless electronic communication device that provide for voice or data communication between two or more parties, including, but not limited to, a mobile or cellular telephone, a text messaging device, a personal digital assistant that sends or receives messages and audio-video player that sends or receives message, or a laptop computer.
[60-470.02; 60-4,120.01(3)(c); and 60-4,123(3)(b)].

Drivers holding a regular license are only prohibited from using a “handheld wireless communication device”, which is defined as:

[A]ny device that provides for written communication between two or more parties and is capable of receiving, displaying, or transmitting written communication . . . [but] does not include an electronic device that is part of the motor vehicle or permanently attached to the motor vehicle or a handsfree wireless communication device.
[60-6,179.01].

A violation of these statutes is only a “secondary offense” meaning they can only be enforced and a driver cited if the driver has been cited or charged with a traffic violation or some other offense.

While these laws, many of which were just enacted in 2010, are a step in the right direction, they are clearly not enough.  First, violations are only secondary offenses. This seems to indicate that these laws are more to increase “punishment” after an accident or other law violation. Making the use of these devices a primary offense would help prevent accidents. Second, there is a question, just looking at the statutory language itself, whether using a non-messaging “application” on a cell phone would even be a violation. Third, with the increasing “connectivity” of vehicles themselves, Nebraska law is clearly behind. The law for drivers holding a regular license may text, email or otherwise communicate as long as it is a feature of the vehicle or to a device “permanently attached” to a vehicle.

The law will always trail technology. Technological advances occur every day while it takes months or even years to pass a law. However, there are specific changes Nebraska could make now that would help prevent accidents due to distractions caused by communication devices. In addition, we need to, both by instruction and modeling proper behavior, educate new drivers about keeping their focus on what is most important: driving. As the old sayings go: “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure;” and “It is better to try to keep a bad thing from happening than it is to fix the bad thing once it has happened.” As a trial lawyer I always tell juries that my injured clients, if they had their choice, would rather have the clock turned back and an accident not occur than have to ask a jury to award them money. While we cannot turn the clock back, we can try to do more to prevent accidents from occurring in the first place.

If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, whether due to a distracted driver or some other cause, please contact Lapin Law Offices anytime at 402-421-8033 or through our website for a free consultation to learn about your rights and what we can do for you.

Other articles and information posted by Lapin Law Offices regarding distracted driving:

Alarming Statistics Regarding Distracted Driving
“Heads Up Driving Week”: October 2-8, 2011
Drivers Understand But Often Ignore Risks of Texting or Talking on Cell Phone
Texting Doubles a Driver’s Reaction Time According To New Study
Distracted Driving: Risks Inside Your New Car or Truck

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Jeffrey Lapin

Lawyer, Founder and Owner at Lapin Law Offices
I am a trial lawyer and the Founder and Owner of Lapin Law Offices. I represent injured, abused and disabled clients with caring, passion and dedication in Lincoln and throughout Nebraska.

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