Winter is now in the rear window. Spring is here and opening day has come and gone. The lines at Richardson’s on the North Shore will be forming any day. Did you know that April is National Distracted Driving Awareness month?
From road signs to construction to billboards to outdoor laser lighting and spotlights, the highways and roads North of Boston are a jumble of distractions. Curb cuts and driveways, the kids in the back seat, drivers drifting from lane to lane – all create challenges and can cause car accidents. Cell phone use while driving is a new and potentially dangerous addition to driving distractions. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation: in 2013 alone, distracted driving claimed 3,154 lives and injured an estimated 424,000.
Technology advances so fast that it is difficult for Massachusetts laws to keep up with the changes. On September 30, 2010, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law prohibiting texting while driving. Operators of a motor vehicle are no longer allowed to manually compose, send or read electronic messages while driving. (M.G.L. c. 90 § 13B) Drivers are also prohibited from “texting” or “emailing” while sitting at red lights, intersections or while on public ways. Junior operators (under 18) are even more restricted. MA law makes it illegal for young drivers to use any type of cell phone while driving, including hands-free or other mobile electronic devices. (M.G.L. c. 90 § 8M) Massachusetts became the thirtieth state in the U.S. to ban testing while driving, with fines ranging from $100 to $500.
Texting while driving can also have very serious implications beyond the fines. It can result in jail.
In a recent case, Commonwealth v. Deveau, 1138 CR 741, a Massachusetts jury convicted 18-year old Aaron Deveau of vehicular manslaughter and sentenced him to one year in jail. In February 2011, while operating a motor vehicle in Haverhill Massachusetts, Aaron was charged with texting when his car drifted across the center lane and struck a vehicle operated by 55-year old Donald Bowley. Mr. Bowley was seriously injured and eighteen days later died from his injuries. The crash also resulted in serious life-altering injuries to Bowley’s passenger, 59-year-old Luz Roman. Aaron Deveau was sentenced to two and one half years in jail, one year to serve and the remainder of the sentence suspended. He must also complete forty hours of community service and had his license suspended for fifteen years. As described by Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett: “There are no winners today, …A beloved grandfather is dead. A once active woman can no longer work and is still racked with pain from her injuries and a young man is going to jail. When we get behind the wheel of a car, we are obligated to drive with care. … As we saw in this case, in a split second, many lives are forever changed.” Texting while driving, even for a moment, can have grave consequences.
One carve out in the new Massachusetts law is that a driver is not considered to be operating a motor vehicle if the vehicle is stationary and not located in a part of the public way intended for travel. So, PULL OVER FIRST! During the month of April expect police officers to be aggressively targeting distracted drivers. Put your phone down and concentrate on safety while you are driving.
Accidents from distracted drivers are a real problem. The injured can suffer long lasting and serious injuries. If you have been in a car accident with a distracted driver speak with an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you recover for your injuries.