Texting Accidents in Massachusetts

The news is replete with the Haverhill, Massachusetts texting while driving death case. The trial is dramatic, immediate and as a result of a tragic motor vehicle death case. It’s also a unique case because there has never been a Massachusetts texting while driving causing death case in Massachusetts.

The Haverhill case involves a criminal defendant, Aaron Deveau, 18 who is charged with motor vehicle homicide. He is the first person to be charged with this crime while texting in Massachusetts. The Assistant District Attorney’s Office alleges that Deveau was texting while driving home from work, that he crossed the center line, and struck another vehicle driven by Donald Bowley, 55, nearby Danville, New Hampshire. Bowley died as a result of his injuries. His girlfriend, Luz Ramos, suffered serious bodily injuries. This case is being watched all over the country as it appears to be the first texting while driving causing death case.

In a recorded interview by the police following the Haverhill motor vehicle collision, Deveau stated that he was tired from working all day and that there was a driver in front of him. “Either she was slowing down or I was going too fast. [Deveau said in the recorded interview with the police.] Either way I wasn’t paying attention and when I was hitting my brakes it was a little too late.” He admitted to crossing into the other lane of traffic.

Police investigations determined that Deveau sent and received a combination of over 200 text messages on the day of the collision. From a legal viewpoint, only texts sent while driving, and only in the moments just before the crash, are relevant to the cause of the collision. Of course, there is always a twist. The prosecutors claim that Deveau deleted two texts following the crash. Furthermore, lying about those deleted texts, shows that he had the propensity to lie about the other facts in the case.

According to statistics from the National Governor’s Association, 38 states ban texting while driving and 31 states ban all cell phone use by novice and or young drivers. Is that enough? Are the laws being enforced? Can they be?

Unfortunately, many drivers violate the law. Many teenagers think that texting while driving is cool. A recent study shows that only 56% of 18-20 year olds would be likely to say something to a driver that is texting while driving; 49% of people in that age bracket admit to texting while driving. The number only decreases to 52% for 21 to 24 year olds. In the 25-34 category, that percentage increases to 69% and for folks 35 and older, the numbers range between 73% and 84%. A Texas A&M Texas Transportation Institute study showed that distracted driving such as texting while driving doubles reaction time. This is for both reading and writing text messages while driving.

We wrote about texting while driving on October 1, 2010, when the new law when into effect in Massachusetts. While the fines are minimal, the penalties are severe with respect to loss of licenses. The law requires the Massachusetts Registrar of Motor Vehicles to “develop and implement a public awareness campaign” however, ironically, perhaps the Haverhill trial will bring more public awareness than any governmental education program.