A few weeks ago, I wrote about a new Massachusetts law that prohibited most hands-on device use by drivers in the state. The law took effect on February 23, but Massachusetts drivers got a bit of a grace period. Until the end of March, drivers caught violating the law were only issued warnings.
A fatal accident in mid-April highlighted the importance of the hands-free requirement. A bicyclist was killed and his wife and son injured when they were struck by a car on Topsfield Road in Ipswich. The driver, Ryane Linehan, was charged with motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation. This was far from an isolated incident.
Distracted driving presents a serious danger, not only to drivers and passengers on the road, but also to pedestrians and bicyclists like the victim in this case. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 500 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed by distracted drivers in 2018. When you include injuries, the numbers are much higher. In 2016, the same agency reported that 5,987 pedestrians, 840 bicyclists and 5,286 motorcyclists were injured by distracted drivers.
But, many Massachusetts drivers are still using their hand-held mobile devices on the road. During the February 23-March 31 warning period for the new Massachusetts hands-free law, law enforcement officers issued more than 6,500 warnings and citations. In the first two weeks of April, 135 citations and one second-offense citation were issued.
Under the new law, drivers over the age of 18 are allowed only a single tap on a phone or other mobile device, to activate hands-free mode. No quickly checking a text, scrolling for a phone number, dialing, other activity is permitted. And, with good reason. While drivers often think those actions are reasonable safe on the road since they’re so quick, data says otherwise.
For example, the NHTSA says that on average checking or sending a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. Five seconds sounds small, and in most areas of life it is. But, when you’re traveling at 30, 45, or 60 miles per hour (or even faster), five seconds covers a lot of ground.
At 60 mph, it’s 440 feet. That’s a little longer than a Boston city block–the long East-West ones, not the little North-South ones. It’s also about 30 car lengths. When you slow down, you cover less ground, of course. But, traveling 220 feet blind in a lower-speed limit area is just as risky. Limits are generally lower in residential and business areas where there may be a lot of cars pulling in and out of driveways and parking lots, a lot of foot traffic, and other reasons to exercise vigilance. It’s plenty of distance for someone to brake unexpectedly in front of you, a pedestrian to step into the road, a bicyclist to swerve, a car to pull out into traffic or slow to turn into a parking lot…just to name a few possibilities.
Distracted Driving is Negligent Driving
Drivers on the road have an obligation to observe traffic safety laws and exercise due care. When a driver opts to read an email, watch a YouTube video or otherwise direct his attention to a mobile device instead of the road in front of him and surrounding traffic, he’s not living up to that responsibility. When that type of negligence causes harm to someone else, the victim is typically entitled to compensation from the person who caused his injuries.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by a distracted driver, that injury has undoubtedly put strain on your family. You may be entitled to compensation for damages ranging from medical expenses and lost wages to pain and suffering and other intangible losses.
Attorney Kevin P. Broderick has spent decades fighting for the rights of injured people. To learn more about how we can help, call 978-459-3085 or fill out the contact form on this site. The initial consultation is free and there’s no obligation.