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Jail time if you kill someone while texting and driving … in Massachusetts

Last week we reported on the ongoing criminal trial of Aaron Deveau in Massachusetts. Today, the 18-year-old was found guilty of vehicular homicide, and causing a fatal traffic accident while texting on his cell phone. This landmark case is the first time in the state of Massachusetts that such charges have resulted in a conviction. Found guilty, Deveau was sentenced to 2 1/2 years behind bars, and will serve one additional year in jail.

deveau_accident.jpgOn the day of the accident, the teenager had sent and received 193 text messages. Deveau faced a maximum sentence of four years. He was also sentenced to 40 hours of community service, as well as having to surrender his driver’s license for 15 years.

After the accident, Deveau deleted several text messages from his phone, but investigators were able to ascertain that the teenager was driving and texting at the same time through their forensic research team.

This tragic incident caused the death of 55-year-old Donald Bowley Jr., who left 3 children behind, and catastrophic injuries to the two other occupants in Bowley’s vehicle.

deveau trial.jpgIn convicting Deveau, the State of Massachusetts has made an example of this case for all the citizens of Massachusetts who continue to text while driving, even though it has been a violation of the laws of Massachusetts since the year 2010. Even though Deveau showed remorse and regret when he said in open court that he wished he could “take it all back”, before apologizing the to Bowley family, District Court Judge Stephen Abany realized that this case needed an exemplary sentencing.

When sentencing Deveau, Judge Abany said that deterrence “really seems to come to play in this case,” and “[p]eople really want to be safe on the highways.” People need to “keep their eyes on the road, keep their eyes on the road,” he added.

Had Deveau’s cell phone use caused a similar fatal traffic accident in Florida, the teenager would not have been put on trial and would not be spending one year in jail. Florida has repeatedly failed to address one of the most crucial and one of the deadliest forms of distraction while driving. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 73% of American adults sent and received text messages in 2011. More than half exchanged more than 50 text messages every day. Young adults (ages between 18 and 24) exchanged an average of 110 text messages each day (approximately 3,200 text messages per month.)

In the face of exponential use of mobile technology, the Florida legislator should follow the lead of its Massachusetts counterpart, and apply a ban on texting while driving. Florida is now one of six states that has refused to vote on a cell phone ban. Massachusetts gave Judge Abany the tools necessary to give an exemplary sentence to a young man, having the firm conviction that it will deter others from texting while driving and ultimately save lives.

The question a majority of Floridians ask themselves remain unanswered: Will it only take the tragic death of one or more innocent bystanders for the legislator to finally vote on a cell phone ban?

The next legislative session begins in January 2013, until then Floridians must follow Judge Abany’s advice: “Keep your eyes on the road!”

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