Massachusetts Safe Driving Act Attempts to Police the Use of Mobile Phones while Driving to Combat the Rising Number of Fatal Accidents

Eighteen-year-old Aaron Deveau is the first Massachusetts resident to be charged with texting while operating a motor vehicle negligently and causing injury. Deveau is also charged with one count of vehicular homicide. If convicted of both charges, the Haverhill teen faces up to four and half years in jail. Authorities say the teen was sending and receiving text messages on February 20, 2010 at the same time he crossed over the center-line and crashed head-on into a vehicle, killing the 55 year old driver. The Safe Driving Act was signed into legislature on September 30, 2010 in an effort to prohibit drivers from texting and junior drivers from talking on a cell phone. Massachusetts became the 29th state to enact a law of this type, which bans texting, e-mailing, searching on the Internet, and other activities on a phone, laptop, or other electronic device by the operator of a vehicle. This also applies to drivers waiting at traffic lights and stop signs. The Safe Driving Act also bans drivers under eighteen from talking on a mobile phone while operating a vehicle, and requires drivers aged 75 or older to complete a vision test when applying for or renewing a driver’s license.

While the Safe Driving Act imposes six new violations for Massachusetts’ drivers, the violation of ‘Negligent Operation and Injury from Mobile Phone Use’ is the only new violation deemed a criminal infraction, and carries with it the most significant penalties. To be convicted of Negligent Operating & Injury from Mobile Phone Use, the Commonwealth must prove that while using a mobile phone as a minor (§ 8M); using a phone or texting as a public transportation operator (§ 12A); or sending or receiving a “text” (§ 13B), the operator drove negligently so that the lives and safety of the public might be endangered; and caused injury to some other person, vehicle or property. Keep your teens and family safe by staying up to date with the changes in Massachusetts driving laws, talk to your teens about the dangers of using a mobile phone while driving, and consult the best Massachusetts criminal defense attorney in the event someone you love is charged with a violation.

The penalties attached to this new law are separated into two categories: junior operators license penalties, and over 18 penalties. For those with a junior operators license (JOL) the penalties include license suspension of 180 days for the first offense, a 1-year license suspension if the second offense is within three years of the first, and a $500 reinstatement fee. For those over the age of 18, the penalties amount to a 60 day suspension for the first offense, 1-year license suspension if the second offense in within three year of the first, and a $500 reinstatement fee. While the punishment imposed on violators of this law may not seem that severe, it is important to keep in mind due to the criminality of the charge, it also carries with it an insurance surcharge. The criminal offense surcharge applies to injury or property damage resulting from the following incidents:
• Use of any type of mobile phone or mobile electronic device by a junior operator;
• Use of any type of mobile phone or mobile electronic device by an operator of any type of public transportation; or • Use of any type of mobile phone or any handheld device capable of access the Internet to manually compose, send or read an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle.
For a complete summary of the penalties for violations of the Safe Driving Act, please click here.

The implementation of the Safe Driving Act came with high expectations of safer roads and fewer accidents, and not a moment too soon, as the accident rate for texting while driving in America has soared over the last decade. The Harvard Center of Risk Analysis conducted a study which showed that cell phone use contributes to an estimated 6 percent of all crashes, which equates to 636,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries, 12,000 serious injuries and 2,600 deaths each year. Unfortunately, the use of a mobile phone while driving has proved quite difficult to police and enforce, as it is hard for police officers to be a position to catch drivers in the act. The Gazettenet reports that since the law has taken effect, only 1,715 citations for texting and driving have been issued, roughly three citations per day across the entire state. Massachusetts and police officials are working together to spread awareness about the serious dangers of mobile phone use while driving, and are hoping to implement better strategies for punishing those who choose to take the risk.

The use of mobile phones while driving has become a serious danger that every Massachusetts driver should be aware of. If you have been cited under the new Safe Driving Act, enlist the help of an experienced Massachusetts criminal defense attorney immediately to avoid fines, license suspension and insurance surcharges. Attorney Murphy has successfully represented clients in Massachusetts for 18 years and possesses the knowledge and tools to defend your case. For additional information, please contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today for a free and confidential legal consultation by calling 617-367-0450 or completing the contacts tab on our website. As a dedicated lawyer, Attorney Murphy is available 24/7 to discuss your case.

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