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California Cracking Down on Distracted Driving – Is Massachusetts Next?

California has long been a bellwether state for new trends and laws. It is the most populous state and considered more progressive in protecting citizens from corporate safety violations. Home to the tech industry, its residents embrace innovation and tolerance and has some of the strictest regulations in the country when it comes to environmental and consumer safety. Accordingly, it should be no surprise that the state has passed a law restricting any hand-held use of a cellphone while driving so as to cut down on distracted driving fatalities. But will this have any effect on toughening Massachusetts laws regarding cell phone use while driving?

While there are 46 states that ban texting by all drivers, only 14 prohibit all use of cell phones while driving. Distracted driving, which usually refers to cell phone use though it encompasses any behavior that lessens or removes the motorist’s attention from driving, has caused an increase in traffic deaths in recent years. Distraction-affected crashes accounted for 3,477 deaths in 2015 and over 400,000 injuries according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Many teens are included in this statistic.

Distracted Driving Laws in Massachusetts

Massachusetts laws are not as strict as California’s when it comes to distracted driving. Junior operators, or those under 18, however, are banned from use of any hand-held device while driving, a law that is commonly found throughout the country. If caught, they face:

1st offense: $100 fine and 60-day license suspension and attitudinal course

2nd offense: $250 fine and 180-day license suspension

3rd and subsequent offenses: $500 fine and 1-year suspension

If over 18, you must have at least one hand on the wheel at all times and the device cannot interfere with driving. Assessments are:

1st offense: $35

2nd offense within 12-months: $75

3rd and subsequent offenses within 12-months: $150

If caught texting or even reading a text or email while driving, even if stopped in traffic, you face:

1st offense: $100

2nd offense: $250

3rd and subsequent offenses: $500

There are harsher penalties if the cell phone use led to an injury accident. Also, our state has a media campaign to educate motorists about the laws and the risks you take if you use a cell phone in any manner while driving.

Are Stricter Laws Effective?

While cell phone use while driving should be punished, how effective are such laws and should Massachusetts follow California’s lead?

Some experts argue that while strict laws and their enforcement may change behavior, it has not translated to reducing car crashes related to distracted driving. Statistics from 2013 indicated that 63% of motorists in the US admitted to cell phone use while driving in the previous month. The Department of Transportation estimates that at least 660,000 motorists are using their cell phones during daylight hours at any one time on US roadways. About 43% of teen drivers are texting and driving despite laws banning any use of their phones.

To stem the use of hand-held devices, there are some apps drivers can use:

  • Bluetooth and voice recognition–you still have to use fingers or hands to send messages but voice recognition at least is hands-free if only calling
  • Auto-responder–automatically advises email sender that you are not available
  • Text blockers–disables texting while driving

Researchers from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are encouraging tech and auto companies to come up with crash avoidance technology that includes forward-collision warning that automatically brakes the vehicle. Perhaps the further development of autonomous or driver-less vehicles will put these issues to rest.

One family of a 5-year old killed by a distracted driver has sued Apple for its app that allowed video calling on FaceTime, alleging that the driver was using the Apple app at the time he caused the death. Whether the family will settle or collect any compensation may depend on any cautions or warnings Apple had on its app regarding its use while driving but it may also depend on the driver’s actual behavior at the time among other facts.

So should Massachusetts adopt California’s ban? It certainly would not hurt, but educating drivers and continually stressing the risks may be more effective. The other alternatives are continued fatalities and serious injuries that will keep a distracted driving lawyer busy for years to come.

Until then, here are suggestions to minimize your use of a cell phone while driving:

  • Turn your phone off while driving
  • Rely on passengers to text or answer calls or messages
  • Pull over to the side if you must text, respond or make a call
  • Be a role model for your kids and others and turn off or ignore your phone
  • Talk to your teen drivers about any cell phone use
  • Focus on driving only

Damages in a Distracted Driving Injury Case

Your car accident lawyer should advise you that the compensation you may receive depends on proving liability as well as the nature and extent of your injuries. Each claim is different so relying on what someone else collected in a seemingly similar accident should not be definitive. Also, your distracted driving lawyer should never guarantee any result or amount of compensation.

Damages in a car accident case may include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future wage loss
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Exacerbation of a pre-existing condition
  • Emotional trauma
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Pain and suffering
  • Spousal claim for loss of consortium

Contact the law office of Neil Burns, a Boston car accident lawyer who has obtained millions of dollars in compensation for his injured clients during his 30-years of practice. He does not collect any fees unless you obtain compensation for your claim.