“Tell Them You Mean Business”

Massachusetts Distracted Driving Accidents Target of Pilot Enforcement Effort

New England will be the testing ground for distracted-driving enforcement as Massachusetts and Connecticut each receive $550,000 to conduct high-visibility, anti-texting enforcement programs, thanks to a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Boston injury lawyers understand the accident risks as well as the challenges of enforcing a myriad of laws hitting the books in nearly all 50 states. The Governors Highway Safety Association reports 39 states now ban texting by drivers. Ten states have banned all hand-held cell phone use by drivers. Most states also have separate restrictions for novice drivers and school bus drivers. Bans for federal employees driving government vehicles and for commercial truckers also exist. In Massachusetts, novice drivers and school bus drivers are prohibited from using a cell phone. All motorists are prohibited from text messaging while behind the wheel.

But enforcement is frustrated by the fact that police often don't know whether a driver is texting illegally, or legally dialing a phone. Determining whether a driver is 17 and a minor or 18 and legally an adult is a challenge. The end result is often lack of enforcement of these laws after they hit the books. Meanwhile, distracted drivers were blamed for accident causing more than 3,000 deaths and 416,000 injuries in 2010.

The U.S. Department of Transportation hopes the two grants -- $275,000 to each state -- will help identify enforcement solutions.

"We have come a long way in our fight against distracted driving, but there is still much work to be done," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Texting behind the wheel is especially dangerous, which is why we're working with states like Connecticut and Massachusetts to address this important safety issue."

Goals include developing and training police officers in strategies to spot texting drivers, as well as media efforts to continue to educate the public about the perils of texting and driving. Drivers using a hand-held device are 4 times more likely to be involved in an injury accident. Text messaging puts you at 23 times greater risk for an accident.

Still, only about 5 percent of violators are cited for texting while driving. The majority of citations issued occurred in areas with a hand-held cell phone ban, which makes any use illegal.

The two states will work to develop anti-texting enforcement protocols, which may include spotters on overpasses, roving patrols and stationary patrols. Effectiveness and success of the various efforts will be monitored over a 24-month period.  The results will be documents and shared with other states facing such challenges.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the weather has likely made a turn for the worse. As we head into the busy holiday travel season, we encourage you to make a commitment to put the phone down and drive. And we urge you to keep safety a part of the conversation with your young driver. The government also spent a week in October highlighting the risks faced by teenagers as this is also the deadliest time of year for accident involving young drivers.

"Immaturity, inexperience, and a penchant for risk-taking are the major reasons for high crash and fatality rates among teen drivers," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.

Distracted driving, speeding, drunk driving, disobeying traffic control devices and driving with too many passengers are all factors that increase the risk of a teen driver being involved in a serious or fatal accident.

If you've been injured, call 1-800-WIN-WIN-1 for a free consultation with one of the personal injury lawyers at the Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone.