Articles Posted in Distracted Driving

Woman talking on cell phone in car

Hand-held cell phone use would become illegal under new legislation proposed by the Massachusetts’ governor’s office.

Many of us expected Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito would file legislation to limit drivers to hands-free cell phone use this year. But the Baker-Polito Administration went much further last week when it filed, “An Act Relative to Improving Safety on the Roads of the Commonwealth.” In announcing the legislation, the administration reported more than 15,000 people were seriously injured in Massachusetts traffic accidents between 2012 and 2016. Another 1,820 people were killed, including 14 road workers.

The Massachusetts Legislature now has a great deal to consider in coming months. Because these proposals will impact us all, we encourage you to follow the media coverage and share your thoughts with your local legislators and town officials.

Cell Phones. In 2010, Massachusetts banned texting while driving. There have been similar proposals, but no action on handheld cell phones. Meanwhile, distracted driving accidents have increased, claiming 3,450 lives in 2016, according to the NHTSA.

The Baker-Polito proposal would require drivers who use electronic devices to go “hands-free” and make use of hands-free driving equipment, such as Bluetooth. Drivers would have to use voice commands instead of reaching for hand-held cell phones. The proposal does allow “a single tap or swipe to activate, deactivate or initiate hands-free mode.”

If this proposal is approved, Massachusetts would be the 16th state to have a hands-free cell phone law, joining all the New England states.

Primary Seat Belt Enforcement. According to the GHSA, 34 states have primary seat belt laws for drivers and front-seat passengers.

Massachusetts has a secondary seat belt law, meaning police officers cannot simply pull a motor vehicle over for a seat belt violation. A police officer must first observe another moving violation, such as speeding or running a red light.

A primary enforcement law for seat belts has been a hard sell in Massachusetts. But we urge you and your family to use the debate as a reminder to wear a seat belt every time you ride. According to the NHTSA, seat belts saved an estimated 14,668 lives in traffic accidents in 2016. Wearing a seat belt is an easy choice we can all make to protect ourselves.

Road Workers. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation would be granted authority to lower speed limits in construction zones. Fines would double in areas where workers are.

Truck Sideguards. In 2014, the Boston City Council approved a truck sideguard ordinance for all city-contracted trucks – the first in the nation. The governor’s proposal builds on this, mandating sideguards for all state-owned trucks and vehicles over 10,000 pounds. Along with sideguards, trucks must be equipped with convex and cross-over mirrors to increase driver’s visibility. If approved, trucks would have to be equipped by Jan. 1, 2020. All state and municipal contractors would have to do the same by 2022.

The sideguards are intended to protect the area between the truck’s front and back wheels, blocking it off to cyclists and pedestrians who can be caught underneath. Massachusetts has seen numerous cyclists who have been seriously injured or killed by these types of truck accidents.

Electric Scooters. The proposal would start regulating electric scooters like bicycles and allow scooter rentals to move ahead in local communities. This has been a point of contention in the Boston area as bikeshare and rideshare companies are eager to start scooter rentals here. Cities have argued that scooters are illegal because they don’t have directional signals as stated under current state law.

Ignition Interlock Devices. When drivers are convicted of operating under the influence or drunk driving in Massachusetts, they are permitted to apply for a hardship license. With this proposal, anyone who applies for a hardship license must use an ignition interlock device for a minimum of six months. The proposal also clarifies that the Registry of Motor Vehicles has authority to impose penalties if drivers attempt to drive after consuming alcohol or tamper with a device.

Further Reading:

Mass.gov: “An Act Relative to Improving Safety on the Roads of the Commonwealth.”

About Breakstone, White & Gluck – Boston Car Accident Lawyers
With more than 100 years combined experience, Breakstone, White & Gluck specializes in representing individuals injured in car accidents, truck accidents and other catastrophic collisions. If you have been injured, learn your rights at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676. You can also use our contact form.

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shopping mall parking lot

Parking lot crashes are more likely in Boston and Massachusetts this time of year, as holiday shoppers are out. What can you do to prevent accidents? Put down your cell phone, slow down and always watch for pedestrians.

When you finish your holiday shopping, and start to head home, you may be tempted to pick up your cell phone and call someone. But the parking lot is not a safe place and the holidays are not the season.

Unfortunately, car accident claims typically rise during the holidays, as many of us head out shopping or to enjoy holiday lights. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), the increase begins around Thanksgiving and Black Friday. We are now approaching one of the worst stretches, the days just before Christmas. 

At Breakstone, White & Gluck, our Boston personal injury lawyers urge you to travel slowly and set aside distractions to prevent parking lot crashes. Too many drivers are engaging in these distractions, according to this recent National Safety Council poll:

  • 66 percent of drivers nationwide said they would make phone calls while driving through parking lots.
  • Teens were less likely to make phone calls than adults (60 percent).
  • Another 63 percent said they would program GPS systems.
  • More than half, 56 percent, said they would text and 52 percent said they would use social media.
  • Another 50 percent said yes to sending or receiving e-mails, while 49 percent said they would take photos or watch videos.
  • More than half of all teens and adults also admitted they would take time for personal grooming (59 percent of teens; 53 percent of adults).

Tips for Preventing Parking Lot Crashes

  • Drive slowly. Give yourself plenty of time to react to pedestrians and other vehicles.
  • Do not cut through parking lots; follow the traffic lane.
  • Avoid distracted driving activities, such as cell phone use, texting, listening to loud music and engaging in intense discussion. 
  • Choose your place to check electronics, such as before you leave the mall or store.
  • Use blinker signals.
  • Obey stop signs and other signs. Back out carefully.
  • Always watch for pedestrians in the parking lot and at the entrance. Be extremely patient and always wait for them to reach the sidewalk before moving.
  • Walk all the way around your vehicle before stepping inside, looking for pedestrians and parents with small children and baby strollers.
  • Consider parking away from other cars to avoid shopping mall parking lot crashes.

The Impact: Parking Lot Crashes

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports parking lot crashes account for about 20 percent of all auto claims. The NSC reports on average each year, there are 60,000 injured by parking lot crashes and 500 or more who die. Pedestrian accidents account for many parking lot crashes. Backup accidents are responsible for nearly 10 percent of fatal pedestrian crashes in parking lots.

Over the past few years, a number of pedestrian accidents in Massachusetts parking lots have been fatal. In 2017, a Trader Joe’s employee in Acton was killed. A year earlier, a 52-year-old woman died in Wilmington, outside a Rite-Aid. In 2015, a pedestrian was killed in the parking lot of the Cloverleaf Mall in Natick, just across the street from the Natick Collection (or the old Natick Mall).

Cell Phone Use and Massachusetts Law

Eight years ago, Massachusetts banned texting while driving. If you are texting or writing an e-mail and cause a car crash, you could be cited by police. If you injure another driver, the police citation could be used in a civil lawsuit to prove your negligence and you will have to pay compensation to the victim.

All but three states have texting while driving bans. Hand-held cell phone bans are a different story, with just 16 states approving bans. Hand-held cell phones are still permitted when driving in Massachusetts, but safety advocates urge drivers not to use them, especially in parking lots. In a matter of seconds, a simple act such as trying to look up GPS directions or dialing a friend can lead to a serious and possibly fatal accident.

Free Legal Consultation: 800-379-1244

If you have been injured in a parking lot crash, it is important to learn your legal rights for seeking financial compensation under Massachusetts law. Contacting a Boston car accident lawyer promptly is essential so they can act quickly to protect your rights.

At Breakstone, White & Gluck, our lawyers have over 100 years combined experience representing those injured in auto collisions. For a free legal consultation, contact us at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.

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textingincar-c-300Here is another reason for Massachusetts and other states to consider passing laws which ban handheld cell phone use by drivers. A new study reports one in four drivers who crashed was using a cell phone within the previous minute. Cambridge Mobile Telematics released the study last week to coincide with April’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Our country needs a reminder this year. Motor vehicle accident deaths are on the rise, as the National Safety Council reported nearly 40,000 deaths in traffic crashes last year. In fact, the period from 2014 to 2016 saw the largest two-year increase in more than 50 years.

Meanwhile, this year has already seen hundreds of deaths across the U.S. Just last month came a horrific accident in Texas. A driver in Uvalde County, who was texting while driving his pick-up truck, crashed into a church bus, killing 13 people. Texas is one of 5 states which do not ban texting while driving.

Driving talking on a cell phone in car

As attorneys, we have represented hundreds of victims of motor vehicle crashes over the past three decades. In recent years, we have seen texting while driving and cell phone use by drivers multiply at an alarming rate, causing a stunning number of injuries and deaths. These injuries are preventable, but each year, drivers continue to reach for their phones and the toll rises.

According to the US Department of Transportation, cell phones are now involved in 1.6 million auto crashes each year, injuring 500,000 people and causing 6,000 deaths. While many states have already passed legislation to reduce distracted driving accidents, some are now considering additional measures, including Massachusetts.

Massachusetts lawmakers passed the Safe Driving Law in 2010, which banned texting while driving. There was no further action until January 2016, when the Massachusetts state Senate passed a bill banning handheld cell phone use. The ban would have allowed drivers to use hands free technology to dial and talk. According to the State House News Service, the Massachusetts House of Representatives gave initial approval to a similar bill but the legislation stalled.

With Governor’s Comments, Handheld Cell Phone Debate Returns to the News

Massachusetts State HouseThere was no update for several months. Then Governor Charlie Baker spoke in February, indicating he may not support a handheld ban.

“I don’t want to get out of the business of making it possible for people to talk to other people when they’re driving. Because I think the texting thing is a big problem. I’m not sure I believe that the talking thing is,” Baker said during his “Ask the Governor” segment on WGBH Thursday. His comments were published by the State House News Service.

When the show’s co-host noted that drivers could use hands-free Bluetooth devices, Baker said:

“So now we’re just going to let people who can afford to put a Bluetooth in their new car to have the ability to talk when they’re in a car?” Baker responded. “But we’re not going to let anybody else? Hmm. Let me think about that one a little.”

Following the interview, The Boston Herald called on state lawmakers to resume their work to ban handheld cell phones: “Drivers in Massachusetts have proven that when it comes to using their phones behind the wheel they’re incapable of regulating themselves.”

When texting while driving was banned in 2010, texting was the major concern for distracted driving, the Herald wrote. Today, more people have smartphones which offer quick access to social media and other apps.

How Widespread is Texting While Driving in Massachusetts?
Critics say enforcement for Massachusetts’ texting while driving ban is challenging when drivers can hold their phones to talk, but not for other purposes. Police have worked through some of these issues. According to a Boston Globe analysis, Massachusetts police officers wrote 6,131 tickets in 2015, compared to 1,153 in 2011, the first year of the ban. Overall, between late 2010 and mid-April of 2016 when the analysis was published, 18,383 tickets were issued for texting while driving in Massachusetts.

Drivers under 40 years old received the most tickets and many drivers got caught during Distracted Driving Awareness Month, when many local police departments receive safety grants for enforcement.

Where Proposed Legislation Now Stands in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is one of 46 states which have texting while driving laws. Just 14 states also ban handheld cell phone use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut are among the early adopters.

Expect to hear more debate about a handheld cell phone ban in Massachusetts at some point in the future. While Governor Baker has voiced reservations, when the 2017-2018 legislative session began in January, the Massachusetts House of Representatives referred legislation for hands-free cell phone devices to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation.

Where to Find Distracted Driving Safety Campaigns and Information 

No Cell Phone in Car Pledge

Safety campaigns are critical to preventing distracted driving accidents. There are many out there, offering programs for schools and information online.  One effort is from the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys (MATA), which brings its “End Distracted Driving” program to high schools. We support this campaign. Two of our partners, Marc L. Breakstone and Ronald E. Gluck, serve on the MATA Board of Governors. Partner David W. White is a long-time member.

Another effort comes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which offers this pledge which family members can sign to promise each other they will not use a cell phone while driving.

 

Distracted Driving Prevention and Safety Campaigns:

Distraction.gov: Official U.S. website for distracted driving.

It Can Wait!: AT&T’s documentary to stop distracted driving.

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20160119-cellphoneincar-300.jpgThe Massachusetts State Senate is expected to consider a ban on hand-held mobile electronic devices while driving. Many feel a ban is long overdue and we agree.

“Even New Hampshire has gone hands-free. It’s time for Beacon Hill to act,” wrote the Boston Herald editorial board.

The Senate is expected to consider the ban Thursday. Under the proposed legislation, Massachusetts drivers could still talk on the phone using hands-free technology.

Drivers would receive a $100 fine for the first violation, $250 for the second and $500 for all subsequent violations. Drivers cited three times would receive an auto insurance surcharge.

The bill would change the law in Massachusetts for all drivers over 18. Junior operators are already banned from cell phone use behind the wheel.

According to the National Safety Council, cell phone use is now estimated to be involved in 26 percent of all motor vehicle crashes. At any given moment of the day, 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA also reported one survey found almost half of all drivers will answer an incoming call while driving. One in four drivers is willing to place a call on all, most, or some trips.

Texting While Driving Bans
In 2010, then-Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill into law which banned texting while driving. The state is in good company; today, 46 states and the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving. By contrast, only 14 states have banned hand-held cell phone use, including New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut. Maine and Rhode Island have banned texting while driving but hand-held cell phone bans have failed to gain enough support.

Related:
Read the Boston Herald’s recent editorial on a hand-held cell phone ban in Massachusetts.

Summary of the Safe Driving Law, Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles
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As students head back to classes, this is a good time for families to talk about cell phones and distracted driving.

20150831_distracteddriving.jpg

Each day, nine people are killed in the U.S. in crashes involving distracted driving behaviors, such as using a cell phone, texting while driving or eating. More than 1,100 are injured.

There are now 46 states which ban texting while driving, including Massachusetts, which banned the practice in 2010. Junior operators are not allowed to use cell phones at all in Massachusetts.

For Parents

No Cell Phone Rule. Lead by example. Put your cell phone away while driving your children to school. Tell them to put theirs away too because it creates a distraction for you on the roads. Make this a rule for school drop-offs and pick-ups. If you can, extend it to other travel times.

Drop-Off Zone. After you drop your child off at school, resist the urge to immediately check your cell phone in the drop-off zone. Drive away and check later.

Children and Teens

No Cell Phone Use While Commuting. Keep telling your children the cell phone is not for use while commuting to school. Even if they are young and many years away from driving, they can learn now how distracting any cell phone use can be in the car.

Children should not use cell phones while walking or riding bikes to school, either. They can check in with social media, e-mail and text messages at home. If they must, tell them to step several feet off the sidewalk. Make it clear it is not safe to stop in a parking lot.

School Bus. Encourage your child to keep their cell phone packed on the ride so they can be aware of what is going on around them.

Reward Your Child For Not Using a Cell Phone. When your children do as you ask and leave the cell phone packed up, let them know you noticed.

Teen Drivers

Talk to Your Teen Drivers. Take some time to remind them not to use their cell phone behind the wheel. They could seriously injure someone or be stopped by police and face fines and a temporary loss of license.

No Passengers. Do not allow them to carry other teenage passengers with them until they become experienced drivers, and even then they should limit the number of passengers in their cars. Your teenager needs all their energy to focus on the roads and avoid car accidents.

Your teenager may not be happy with your rules, but younger drivers under 25 are two to three times more likely to text or e-mail while driving than others, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You want to protect your teenager and help them develop safe habits.

Share Safety Materials. Do not be your teen’s only source of information. Occasionally share safety campaign information or news articles about texting while driving with them. One resource is the AT&T It Can Wait campaign.
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20141006-texting.jpgThis month, students at four high schools in Massachusetts will sit down at computer simulators and learn what it feels like to text or use a cell phone while driving and then crash.

This is part of Arbella Insurance Foundation’s Distractology 101 program, which will visit Braintree High School, Phillips Academy in Andover, Falmouth High School and Sacred Heart High School in Kingston. Although the young drivers will not actually suffer or cause injury, or feel the remorse of having caused the collision, they will be taught the lesson that distracted driving behaviors, such as cell phone use, using a GPS and even eating and drinking, can result in car accidents and serious injuries. These behaviors should be considered as or more dangerous than speeding or running a red light.

Consider these statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

teen-driver-and-mom.jpgSept. 30 will mark three years since the state of Massachusetts strengthened its laws for teen drivers.

Under the Safe Driving law, which took effect in 2010, teen drivers age 16 ½ to 18 are banned from all cell phone use and there is no texting while driving for operators of any age. The Junior Operator Law, which was passed in 2007, bans teen drivers from carrying passengers under the age of 18, except siblings. They also cannot drive between the hours of 12:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., unless accompanied by a parent.

Massachusetts is not alone; most states now have Graduated Licensing Laws restricting teen drivers in some way. In 47 states, novice drivers have passenger restrictions and 48 states limit nighttime driving. Teens are banned from all cell phone use in 37 states.

There is good reason for the laws: For each mile of roadway, teens age 15- to 20-years-old are three times more likely to die in a car accident than other drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Now is a good time to observe how well your teen driver is obeying the laws. Every year, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports June, July and August see the largest number of teen driving deaths. But one nationwide company, State Farm Insurance, reports October is another dangerous time. It sees the most claims from 16- and 17-year-old drivers in this month, up 15 percent from other times.

Teen drivers get into auto accidents because they lack experience, are sensitive to distractions and do not always follow the rules. A few tips for helping your Massachusetts teen driver:

Say No to Teens Using Their Cell Phones. Many teens are texting while driving, despite the laws. In a 2011 study of 8,500 U.S. high school students age 16 and older, 45 percent admitted to texting or e-mailing while driving in just the past 30 days. The study was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was published in the June issue of Pediatrics Journal. These teens were more likely not to wear their seat belt.

Encourage your teen to turn their cell phone off or put it in the backseat while driving. Taking a peek at text messages, e-mails or their Facebook page is not allowed. That includes while sitting at traffic lights and intersections where they need to look out for other traffic, as well as pedestrians and cyclists.

Limit Teen Passengers in the Car. Drivers under 18 in Massachusetts are not allowed to carry passengers under the age 21, except siblings. Be vigilant on this point with your teen. Among 16- and 17-year-old drivers, there is a 44 percent higher chance they will be killed in a crash with even one passenger under 21 years old, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The number multiplies with each additional passenger under 21, but decreased over 60 percent for each passenger age 35 or older.

Test Drive School Zones. Let your teen observe from the passenger seat as you drop them off to school and pick them up. You will encounter traffic, bicyclists and children walking, which will be new and potentially stressful for them as a driver (even if they traveled this area during their Driver’s Education practice hours). Point out how you adjust to the activity and decrease your speed.

If you do not drive to school, take this ride outside school hours and then let them drive. The goal is to make them aware of the challenges and make them comfortable in case they have to drive at some point.

Cyclists and Pedestrians. Remind your teen of what they learned in Driver’s Education class. Make sure they stop well behind the crosswalk at intersections and always let pedestrians pass. Remind them that cyclists can travel the full width of the road. Remind them to make sure cyclists are not approaching when they open any doors in the car.

Other Driving Safety Tips. These are the foundation of all driving safety tips, but always worth a reminder for safety’s sake: Talk to your child about always wearing a seat belt, following the speed limits and never using drugs or alcohol while operating.

The most important things are to talk to your children about driving and to set a good example yourself when they are in the car with you. Visit this web page for additional suggestions.

Related:
Teen Driver Safety Week

Study: Teens who text and drive take even more risks, USA Today
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Texting while drivingWe suggest parents now talk to your children about the rules for getting to and from school safely. No skipping over the hard part: talking about when everyone, parents and children alike, should put down the cell phone.

Walking to School. Encourage your child to use sidewalks and crosswalks with crossing guards or walk signals. Agree on a route with your child and never let them walk alone. Every year, drive or walk the route yourself so you can identify any problems.

Bicycling. Make sure your child wears a helmet – it’s the law and it’s common sense. While your child has many of the same rights as a driver, remind them to take it slow in parking lots or and when passing cars. They should learn to make eye contact with drivers in their vicinity–that way they can read the intention of the driver more clearly. Read about Massachusetts law for bicyclists.