---- — It’s been two years since Massachusetts banned texting while driving but much work remains to end this dangerous practice. It is all too common to glance over at another driver while on Route 128 and see one hand on the wheel, the other on the cell phone and the eyes on the phone not on the road. We have all been stuck behind a car that doesn’t move when the light turns green because the driver is busy texting. This has to change. The safety of the public depends upon it.
When the law passed to require seat belts, many people complained that it would be too difficult to enforce or that government should not legislate this behavior. In the years since, we have all come to appreciate how seat belts save lives and for many of us, putting a seat belt on has become second nature. This was accomplished through a combination of law enforcement and public awareness campaigns. I would argue that the same must be done to convince drivers not to text.
I also believe that it is not just young people who need to get this message, but drivers of all ages. Over the last two years, I have spoken to high school students and members of community service organizations to help raise awareness of the dangers of texting and driving. The statistics are clear: If you text while driving, you are 23 times more likely to crash than a non-texting driver; reading the average text while driving is the same as driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.
While these numbers are compelling, they do not convey what exactly is at stake.
On June 6, 2012, a Haverhill District Court jury convicted 18-year-old Aaron Deveau of motor vehicle homicide, and texting and driving and causing injury. He was sentenced to serve 2.5 years in the House of Correction with one year to be served. On the day that he should have been picking out his tuxedo for the senior prom, or planning his graduation party with his parents, he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs. A young man with his whole future ahead of him will now spend a year in jail and will not be eligible to get his license back until he is 33, because of one text.
On the other side of that same courtroom on that same day, the family and friends of Donald Bowley and Luz Roman also wept. Mr. Bowley died and Ms. Roman was seriously injured because while Aaron was reading a text message, he drifted over the center line and crashed head on into their car. A father, grandfather, brother, boyfriend is gone because of one text. A once vibrant woman still cannot work to this day because of one text.
This accident, which was so predictable, as is any distracted behavior while driving, was absolutely preventable. Therefore question for everyone reading this is, “is it worth it?” Can you think of one message that would be worth that?
I understand all too well how busy people are and when the phone dings with a message, it is very difficult to ignore it. We all think, “I can take a quick look.” Please. Resist the temptation and think again.
Jonathan Blodgett is the district attorney of Essex County.