Does anyone need to be reminded of how dangerous distracted driving can be? Nearly anyone who drives can tell you that they have experienced at least one moment in the car when their attention was distracted even for a few seconds before having to suddenly crush the brake or swerve to avoid the car in the next lane, all because they were texting, calling or just looking at their cell phone.
Most people will agree that using a cell phone while driving is dangerous. In a survey taken by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 60% of Massachusetts motorists were of that opinion but 78% of those surveyed admitted to having done so anyway in the past 30-days. 97% said it was wrong to email or text while driving though 28% admitted to having done just that within the last 30-days.
Distracted Driving Kills
In 2013, distracted driving accounted for 3,154 road deaths and 424,000 injuries nationwide. Drivers under 20 years of age experienced the highest fatality rate of any group with 10% of deaths within this age group attributed to distracted driving. Drivers in their 20s comprised 27% of the distracted motorists involved in fatal accidents. For most of these fatalities and injuries, cell phone use was the subject of the distraction.
But being reminded of the dangers in cell phone use while driving is apparently insufficient and Massachusetts lawmakers are one group that has had enough. In 2010, the legislature had passed a law that banned texting while driving but not for calling even while using a hand-held device while driving unless you are under 17. The law did little to deter drivers and law enforcement found it difficult to prove that a motorist had been texting unless phone records were subpoenaed, creating another layer of obfuscation that lawyers could use in defending their clients. Understandably, law enforcement officials, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were frustrated by the lack of any deterrent effect.
Massachusetts Proposed Law
The proposed law bars any hand-held cell phone use by any group of motorists. You are exempt if you use a phone while your vehicle is stationary and not in an area of the road intended for travel. The exemption includes situations where you are in an emergency or reporting a disabled vehicle or accident on the road. The cell phone ban would extend to inputting information into a GPS device as well. It is unclear though how this would affect ride-sharing vehicles where operators often have to input directions into their phones if a passenger was unclear about a destination.
The penalties are $100 for a first offense and $250 for a second. Subsequent violations would be moving violations and impact insurance premiums as well as putting points on the offender’s license. In Massachusetts, 3 moving violations within 2 years can result in the suspension of your driving privileges.
The legislation still has to clear the state Senate but not before the inevitable amendments are offered and voted on though the main focus of the bill, to ban and punish any cell phone use except under very limited conditions, would remain.
Liability for Distracted Driving
Distracted driving is negligent driving. All motorists have a duty to exercise reasonable care when driving, which involves focusing full attention on driving since hazards can appear suddenly and without warning. If a motorist is talking on a handheld phone or texting, less than full attention is on driving. Statistics bear out the perils of any kind of distractions while driving but the proliferation and ease of cell phone use has resulted in fatalities rivaling or even surpassing that of intoxicated driving.
Hopefully, the proposed legislation will make some inroads into stemming the widespread use of cell phones while driving but it will take a few years to see if increased penalties need to be implemented before enough motorists finally put their cell phones down and cease endangering themselves and others.
Experienced Attorney Neil Burns Helps Drivers Victims Injured from Distracted Drivers
If you or a loved one was injured by a distracted driver, call Neil Burns, a car accident lawyer who has represented thousands of injured claimants over his 30 years of practice and who has obtained millions in compensation for his clients. Call for a free consultation.