Massachusetts Governor Baker Upping the Ante on Distracted Driving

Distracted driving and the tragic accidents that it causes have been on the public radar for some time now. The phrase is a catch-all for any behavior that takes the driver’s focus off of driving for any amount of time. This can include activities such as eating, rubber-necking, day-dreaming, looking out the side window, grooming, changing the radio dial, looking for your sunglasses in the glove apartment, or conversing with passengers. However, safety advocates are generally aiming at hand-held cell phone use as the main non-driving activity whenever distracted driving is discussed since it has been an issue in many serious and fatal car accidents. And Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is taking steps to emphasize that danger by urging lawmakers to prohibit all use of hand-held phones while driving on our highways.

Few people concerned about highway safety would disagree that using a cell phone while driving is risky behavior. Studies have consistently showed that the average smartphone user takes 5 seconds to text or read an email or other text while driving. At just 50 miles per hour, your car will travel the length of a football field while your attention and eyes are not focused on the road. This is more than enough time to miss a roadway hazard such as a turning vehicle, pedestrian, or bicyclist that was not within your field of vision 5 seconds ago.

Unbelievably, only 16 states, D.C., Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban hand-held smartphone use by all drivers of all ages. The reluctance in forbidding use by adults likely can be traced to several reasons:

  1. Just another government intrusion into how we personally conduct ourselves
  2. Adults can take personal responsibility for their own actions
  3. Most drivers feel they can safely drive and use a cellphone at all times
  4. It is a pretext for racial profiling
  5. It is not obvious to a police officer that the person is texting or using a phone

Governor Baker, though, is continuing to pressure lawmakers to pass legislation that he put his imprimatur on in January and ban any use of hand-held phones by all motorists. In March, he met with a representative from the Registrar of Motor Vehicles, the AAA Northeast CEO, a MassDot Highway Administrator, and the Program Director for MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) to draw attention to efforts to reduce serious and fatal injury accidents. The bill that Governor Baker introduced would also require first-time DUI offenders to use an ignition interlock system in all vehicles that they drive before their full driving privileges are restored to them.

Sobering Facts of Distracted Driving

Distracted driving rivals drunk driving as the main scourge of the highways since either behavior leads to speeding, unsafe lane changes, running red lights and stop signs, and not observing or reacting to a road hazard in time.

Some studies indicate that 25% of traffic fatalities are related to distracted driving, but that it accounts for 58% of car crashes among teen drivers.

There are different types or categories of distracted driving:

  • Cognitive distraction—thinking of something other than driving
  • Visual distraction—looking at something other than the roadway
  • Manual distraction—engaged in some activity that is not driver-related

When texting or reading an email or video, you meet all 3 categories. Your mind is focused on the message you are sending; your eyes are not on the road; and you are using the keyboard to text your message. When viewed this way, texting is more hazardous than impaired driving.

In 2015, there were 391,000 motor vehicle injuries linked to distracted driving, and 3,477 fatalities. Your risk of being in a car crash if you text and drive is 23 times greater than if you were focused on driving alone.

Despite these figures, texting and driving and reviewing your emails or a YouTube video while driving remains widespread. How many times have you seen or had to honk at a motorist looking down at their phones at a stoplight? Or have observed drivers texting while speeding along at 65 mph? An organization called TeenSafe reported that 77% of adults and 55% of teenagers feel that they can safely drive and text, meaning that they have been doing so repeatedly and will continue to unless our laws change.

Liability in Distracted Driving Accidents

Every motorist has a duty to exercise ordinary care when driving, which means obeying the traffic laws and keeping a lookout for hazards including pedestrians and bicyclists. A driver who is inattentive and strikes a pedestrian in a crosswalk, runs a red light, or weaves out of a traffic lane and strikes another vehicle, has breached or violated his/her duty of care.

Liability in many traffic accidents is often contested with both parties asserting that the other ran the red light or stop sign, made an unsafe lane change, or was otherwise negligent in causing the accident. In a serious accident where you suspect that the other driver was using his/her cell phone in the moments before the collision, and there are no witnesses or other evidence establishing fault, your distracted driving lawyer can subpoena that driver’s cell phone records and correlate the time of the accident with the time that a text was being sent or a call was being made. In this manner, your lawyer can perhaps persuasively argue that the person was distracted at the time of the accident—cognitively, visually, and manually. Your distracted driving lawyer can also assert that texting and driving is not exercising ordinary care while driving so as to establish at least some degree of negligence.

Damages in Distracted Driving Accidents

If you were injured, you can claim damages against the responsible motorist. The compensation you can obtain will largely depend on the nature and extent of your injuries, and the reasonableness of your damages that are supported by medical and other documentary evidence, and witness testimony. Damages in many distracted driving accidents can include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future income loss
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Spousal claim for loss of consortium

Punitive damages are only available in wrongful death claims, and if it shown that the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent or exhibited a willful indifference to the rights and safety of others.

Retain a distracted driving lawyer from the law firm of Burns and Jain will ensure that you receive quality legal representation from skilled and highly experienced lawyers. Call us today at (617) 227-7423 for a free consultation.