Massachusetts Distracted Driving Accidents

Distracted driving in Massachusetts is a major factor in serious and fatal car accidents.  Although we generally associate distracted driving with use of a cell phone, the definition offered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that distracted driving is: 

“Any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system — anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.”  Dogs and kids are often a distraction we uncover when taking defendant driver’s depositions…

In other words, any activity while driving that takes your hands off the wheel, eyes off the road, and mind off of driving is a distraction that can result in you missing a road hazard or veering out of your lane.  At 60 miles per hour, you travel 100 yards in just 5-seconds, which is the average time someone using a cell phone takes their eyes off the road. 

There are few of us who have not driven while looking for a suitable radio station, daydreaming, rubbernecking at an accident, eating fast food, or turning to laugh with passengers.  However, it is since the advent of cell phones that distracted driving has become a hazard that rivals drunk driving for the carnage it has produced.  Motorists on a cell phone demonstrate a perception/reaction time that is the same as those with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08%, the level at which you are deemed under the influence of alcohol. 

The NHTSA estimates that at any one time, there are 660,000 drivers who are using an electronic device (cell phone).  Although there are millions of cars on the road each day, use of a cell phone has been responsible for over 3000 deaths annually in the U.S.  In 2020, texting and driving accounted for some 9% of all reported collisions in the U.S. and 13% of all distracted driving accidents that resulted in a fatality.

Laws on Cell Phone Use in Massachusetts

You can still use a cell phone while driving in Massachusetts provided you are at least 18-years of age and you follow these rules:

  • Touch the phone to activate it in hands-free mode
  • Have the phone mounted to the windshield, center console or dash so long as it does not impede your ability to drive
  • You may use voice-to-text mode, if available 
  • You may have an earbud in one ear
  • Can utilize a hand-held phone only if stopped and not in a traffic or bicycle lane
  • May utilize hand-held phone if it is an emergency 

Again, drivers under the age of 18 are not permitted any use of a cell phone, even if properly mounted. 

Penalties in Massachusetts

Like other states, Massachusetts has evolved over the years in dealing with the increase in distracted driving accidents as more of the population has come to use and rely on cell phones and distracted accidents drastically rose. As of 2020, all drivers regardless of age are barred from texting and driving and any other use of cell phone that is hand-held with few exceptions. Penalties for violations are progressive:

  • First offense: $100
  • Second offense: $250 and mandatory participation in a distracted driving course
  • Third and all subsequent offenses: $500, mandatory participation in a distracted driving course and an insurance surcharge

While it is not illegal for you to eat, be grooming, or reading a document while driving or being engaged in other distracting behaviors other than unlawful use of a cell phone, these behaviors can be just as dangerous. If there is evidence of a driver having been engaged in such behavior, it can be used to help determine liability.

Liability in a Distracted Driving Accident

In injury accidents where liability is disputed, evidence that a motorist was using a cell phone can be instrumental in proving liability and getting you the compensation you deserve.  How do you show that the other driver was using a cell phone or was engaged in other distracting behavior at the moment the collision occurred?

  • Admission—in some cases, you and/or another person or witness may have overheard the driver admit to having been texting or reading a text or had looked down to retrieve something just before the accident.
  • Eye-witnesses—At times, a passing motorist or pedestrian may have observed the motorist looking down, with a phone in hand, putting on lipstick, eating something, or using their hand to text on a mounted phone. If the subject car had a dash cam or if there was surveillance camera footage from overhead poles on the roadway or from adjoining businesses, it may have recorded the driver with phone in hand or being engaged in other distracting conduct.
  • If you suspected the other driver was using a cell phone, let the investigating officer on the scene know. The officer can confiscate the driver’s phone to see if there was a call or texting in the moments before the collision. Also, your car accident attorney can subpoena the phone company logs to get the exact time when a text or call was being made. 

In situations where the other driver contends you were equally at fault for speeding or not fully stopping a stop sign, or for committing any other traffic violation, evidence that that motorist was distracted can discredit their account and hold them 100% at fault rather than finding you liable to some degree and decreasing the amount of damages you are claiming.

Damages in Distracted Driving Injury Accidents

Typical damages in a car accident injury claim may include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future income loss
  • Emotional distress
  • Pain and suffering
  • Permanent disfigurement or disability
  • Decreased income capacity
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Spousal claim for loss of consortium

Retain an experienced car accident attorney to support your claim for damages since proof of your damages is a required element in a negligence claim.

Retain a Car Accident Attorney from the Law Office of Burns and Jain

A car accident attorney at Burns and Jain can help you prove liability in disputed claims, especially where distracted driving is suspected. Call us at (617) 227-7423 for a free consultation about your injury claim.

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