Articles Posted in Texting While Driving

Teen driver and teen passenger sitting in front seat of car, using cell phones.

A recent study shows teen drivers are more likely to cause crashes resulting in injury or death during the summer months.

When your teen driver picks up the keys, you may casually say, “Have fun and be safe.” But this is when your worry sets in.

In this blog, Breakstone, White & Gluck reports on the latest research on teen drivers along with essential safety fundamentals to share with your family. Our partners each have more than 35 years of experience representing those who have been injured by negligent drivers in Boston, Cambridge and across Massachusetts. To avoid these tragedies, we encourage parents to play an even more proactive role to encourage safety during the summer months.

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety “100 Deadliest Days” Study

A new study reports two-thirds of people injured or killed in car crashes involve a teen driver. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released this figure as part of its “100 Deadliest Days” report on the period from Memorial Day to Labor Day. During the past five years, nearly 3,500 people have been killed in crashes caused by teens during the summer months, according to AAA.

More than a quarter of the teen driving crashes were caused by speeding. Teens who were drinking and driving caused 17 percent of the deadly collisions while distracted driving behaviors caused 9 percent of the deaths.

Other findings:

  • Teen drivers, age 15-18, are 17 percent more likely to cause a fatal car crash in the summer than other times of the year.
  • The legal age for consuming alcohol is 21 years old in every state. Yet 1 in 6 teens involved in fatal summer crashes tested positive for alcohol.
  • More than 52 percent of teens participating in AAA’s research reported they had read a text message or email while driving in the past 30 days. Another 40 percent admitted to sending one.
  • As part of its research, AAA used in-vehicle dash cameras and found 58 percent of teens who caused a crash were engaged in distracted behaviors. This was four times as high as federal estimates.

Other research goes deeper, showing teen drivers crash nearly 4 times as often per mile as drivers age 20 and up (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.) The younger the driver, the more likely they are to crash due to inexperience or risky behaviors. Even a couple years can make a significant difference. For instance, the crash rate for 16-year-old drivers is 1.5 times as great as for 18- and 19-year-olds.

A few tips for your family:

Teen driving agreement. If you have never done so, now is a good time to have your child sign a teen driving agreement. Don’t just get a signature. Ask your teen to read each point out loud and ask if they understand or have any questions. 

Massachusetts Junior Operator Law. Remind your teen that they have additional restrictions under the state’s junior operator law. If they violate the law, they may be cited and the infraction will go on their driving record. There is nothing you can do to help them at that point unless you plan to hire a criminal defense lawyer and attempt to challenge the citation.

For the first six months, drivers age 16 ½ to 18 cannot carry passengers under the age of 18, except for family members. The law also bans junior operators from driving between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. and cell phone use is not allowed for any reason. There are additional consequences for driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding or drag racing.

Drinking and Driving. Explain to your teen that there is a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving in your home. Encourage them to avoid parties where there are a large number of teens or where teens may be drinking.

At the same time, they should never get in the car with a friend who has been drinking and you will do everything you can to help them get home safely in situations involving alcohol. Come up with an emergency plan together now before there is a crisis situation.

Drive with your teen. Ask your teen to tag along when you go to the grocery store or mall. Show them how you handle the parking lot or the busy intersection where you need to watch for cyclists and pedestrians. Talk through some of the steps out loud. Then, give them the wheel on the way home. 

Set a good example. Do not heavily consume alcohol and never drive if you do. Put your cell phone in the back seat when you drive. If your teen calls, say, “I was driving and couldn’t talk.” If you use a hands-free driving device, consider limiting use while your teen gets started on the road. 

About Breakstone, White & Gluck

At Breakstone, White & Gluck, our Boston car accident lawyers have over 100 years combined experience. Our lawyers are committed to providing aggressive representation and obtaining the best possible financial results for clients – in every case. We represent clients injured by car crashes and in truck accidents in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and across Massachusetts.

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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As students head back to classes, this is a good time for families to talk about cell phones and distracted driving.

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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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Texting while drivingDrivers may claim they are not texting behind the wheel. But Massachusetts State Police say that at least 440 of them were doing just that in June.

State Police cited these drivers over three weeks in the Merrimack Valley, part of a federally funded enforcement grant involving 12 communities. Another 509 drivers were ticketed for impeded operation, after being caught engaged in distractions such as reading and grooming while driving.

The numbers are notable as today marks three years since the Safe Driving Law took effect in Massachusetts, placing new restrictions on drivers under 18 years old and banning all drivers from texting while driving. Three years later, how well are you complying with the law?

The law bans texting by drivers, including reading, writing or sending messages. This includes text messages, e-mails and messages sent through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Drivers cannot text while driving or sitting at red lights, intersections or on other public ways. Texting while driving is a primary offense, meaning police can pull drivers over when they suspect the behavior.

The law also covers more than cell phones. It bans communicating through any device while you are driving, including tablet computers and laptops.

Fines for Texting While Driving in Massachusetts
Drivers are permitted to talk on cell phones in Massachusetts. But operators under 18 years old are banned from all cell phone use, a measure passed as part of the Safe Driving Law.

One area of confusion with the texting while driving ban has been the use of GPS, especially GPS apps in smartphones. The Registry of Motor Vehicles reported back in 2010 that such use was not a violation of the law, though State Police said they would use discretion with GPS units and could cite drivers for “unsafe operation.”

Across the country, 41 states ban texting while driving. Fines in Massachusetts drivers are $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second and $500 for third and all subsequent acts. When a driver causes serious injury or death as a result of texting, they can also face criminal charges.

One Massachusetts newspaper has called for more. In today’s edition, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette noted that drivers who violate the law do not face any impact on their license or auto insurance rates and called on the Legislature to strengthen laws.

“To create a true deterrent, lawmakers must strengthen the penalties, particularly for second and subsequent offenses,” the Telegram & Gazette wrote.

Maybe the Legislature will review the law. Enforcement will continue. State Police have launched Phase 2 of their “Text with one hand, ticket in the other,” campaign in the Lowell and Merrimack Valley area.

But the discussion goes beyond a $100 ticket to safety and responsibility on the road. Any cell phone use that takes a driver’s attention off the road is negligent and can cause a car accident resulting in serious injuries or death. So we ask again. Have you complied with the law? Are there are additional steps you could take?

If you have any doubts about safety, or the terrible effects three seconds of inattention might bring, please watch this video: “From One Second To The Next,” by Werner Herzog. It is part of AT&T’s It Can Wait campaign.

Related:
Texting While Driving Crackdown Nets 440, Lowell Sun.

Tougher penalties needed, Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

Safe driving law applies to more than just texting behind the wheel, The Boston Globe.
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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.

We want to share a story we heard on NPR this morning. Texting while driving remains one of the leading safety hazards on our roads today, despite years of public service announcements, educational campaigns and media stories of tragedy.

German filmmaker Werner Herzog has now released a new and less traditional public service announcement. In an in-depth 35-minute film, he speaks to victims, families, law enforcement and drivers who made the mistake. In one case, he shows the daughter of a victim reunited with the driver who killed her father. In another case, a woman who was seriously injured by a texting driver faced more than a million dollars in medical bills.

The film is called, “From One Second to the Next,” and can be viewed below. It is part of the AT&T “It Can Wait” campaign.

In the NPR interview, Herzog said: “The message is very, very simple. Don’t text and drive.”


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driving.jpgTalking, e-mailing and texting in the car are not any safer with voice recognition software, a new study finds.

Infotainment systems – those digital screens in a vehicle’s dashboard – are becoming more standard in cars. They have voice recognition software which allows drivers to talk on the phone hands-free or send e-mails and text messages by voice. You can ask your GPS for directions, go online and even log into social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, all while driving, though these practices are unsafe.

While the federal government seeks industry support to limit use of these features while cars are in operation, the speech-to-text technology is legal in all 50 states. It provides an alternative in the 11 states and District of Columbia which ban cell phone use for all drivers. Massachusetts is one of the 41 states and District of Columbia which ban texting while driving for all operators, though drivers over 18 can talk on cell phones.

Distracted Driving Study
The new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that putting the phone down and talking is still a risk. The study reported that speech-to-text technology causes a higher level of cognitive distraction than other activities behind the wheel, such as listening to a book on tape, the radio or talking on a hand-held phone or hands-free phone. Researchers compared drivers undertaking the different activities with eye-scanning technology that measured where driver attention was focused and electrical activity in the brain.

The study was led by David Strayer, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah who researches driving behavior and car accidents. He was the same researcher who led the 2006 University of Utah study.

Distracted Driving Concerns
In 2013, 9 million systems will be shipped in cars worldwide, according to ABI Research, an industry research firm. The number is expected to rise as automakers push the technology.

This technology meets heavy government concern about distracted driving. In 2010, 3,092 people were killed in car crashes related to distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Recently, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman called for a ban on all phone conversations behind the wheel, even with hands-free devices. Last December, the federal government released voluntary guidelines for the auto industry, recommending that many infotainment system features be disabled while cars are in use. The recommendations seek to prevent drivers from manually enter messages, read messages, browse the Internet and make video conference calls while driving.
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We all have one: a cell phone we keep close by throughout the day, to keep in touch with work and the people in our lives. Many of us now use smart phones so in addition to talking and texting, we have quick access to apps, cameras and other neat gadgets. The bottom line is we get more use from our mobile phones now than ever.

While the conveniences are nice, they are a negative when it comes to driving. Studies have long shown cell phone use of any type is a distraction which can result in drivers taking their eyes off the road and causing motor vehicle accidents. 

Most states have some restriction on use. The District of Columbia and 39 states, including Massachusetts, ban texting while driving. Ten states and the District of Columbia ban all phone use by drivers. Massachusetts bans all cell phone use for drivers under 18. 

textingincar.jpgA Haverhill teenager was sentenced to jail time this week for causing a fatal accident by texting while driving, raising the issues of painful consequences, criminal punishments and civil liability families can face for what is becoming an all-too-common practice.

The case was the first of its kind in Massachusetts, where a ban on texting while driving took effect in 2010. As the 18-year-old driver was sentenced this week in Haverhill District Court, the public learned what criminal punishments violators can face. But the public should also be aware of what they did not see in the media: If a teen causes a car accident, they and their parents might also be sued civilly and may have to pay their victims significant financial damages.

In cases involving injury and death, a parent who negligently entrusts a car they own to a teen who they have cause to know is texting behind the wheel may be found liable for negligent entrustment. If so, then the parent might be sued and forced to pay damages to a victim.

Case of Texting While Driving
On February 20, 2011, Aaron Deveau, 18, was driving in Haverhill and crossed the center line, striking a car driven by a 56-year-old New Hampshire man. The man died of his injuries a few weeks later, while his passenger, a 59-year-old Haverhill woman, was severely injured and left with physical disabilities.

After the man’s death, Deveau was charged with motor vehicle homicide and texting and causing injury. The motor vehicle charge carried a maximum sentence of two and a half years in jail and the texting and causing injury was punishable by up to two years. A Haverhill District Court jury found him guilty of both charges and Judge Stephen Abana sentenced him to the maximum penalty. However, Deveau will serve a year concurrently on both charges and the balance of the charges is suspended for five years. His license will be suspended for 15 years on the motor vehicle homicide charge.

Prosecutors have been able to charge negligent drivers with texting and causing injury since September 30, 2010, when the Massachusetts law banning texting while driving took effect. The law banning use of electronic devices while driving is M.G.L. Chapter 90, Section 13B. If drivers cause injury or death, they can be criminally charged under M.G.L. Chapter 90, Section 24(2)(a).

The law applies to all electronic communications, including sending and reading texts, sending and reading emails, and any sort of internet browsing. For non-criminal charges (if there is no accident or injury), the fine is first $100, then $250, and then $500. Insurance surcharges do not apply to the civil penalties.
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