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The Civil and Criminal Penalties for Texting While Driving

Texting and driving is a dangerous habit, but there are more penalties than you may realize if caught in the act.

Everyone has had it happen to them – you are driving when you suddenly notice a car in front of you drifting and swerving all over the road.  We all try to keep our distance from these cars for a number of reasons.  If you do eventually get closer to the car or pass it, the odds are that you will see why the driver was swerving and you will likely mutter a few choice words to no one in particular - the driver is texting or using a cell phone. Using a cell phone while driving is not the best habit, but texting while driving is even more dangerous.  It takes a driver’s eyes and focus completely off of the road, greatly increasing the chance of harm to the driver and his passengers, other cars on the road and pedestrians in the area. Due to this now prevalent public safety hazard, the Massachusetts legislature has taken steps aimed at stopping this dangerous behavior by enacting The Safe Driving Law.

In effect since September 30, 2010, the law makes it illegal for a driver operating a vehicle to use a cell phone or device with internet capabilities for writing, sending, or reading electronic messages. The law applies even when your car is stopped in traffic, whether it be at a red light or in bumper to bumper traffic.  The law imposes civil fines, but also provides for criminal penalties in the event that a driver causes injury to a person (another operator, a passenger, a pedestrian) while texting and driving.  These criminal penalties have some teeth as well – a 60-day license suspension and $500 reinstatement fee for first time offenders.

If a driver violates The Safe Driving Law and causes injury to another, the driver can also be held accountable in a civil lawsuit. In Massachusetts, violation of the law (if proven) would not automatically mean that the driver was negligent, but it would be evidence of the driver’s negligence, and, most likely, pretty convincing evidence.  A jury will likely not have much tolerance for a person who caused an accident and injuries because the driver was too busy texting to pay attention to the road.

The Safe Driving Law is meant to curb people’s urges to distract themselves with their mobile devices and all the distractions they provide.  As the capabilities of mobile devices grows (seemingly exponentially), more and more people are being injured due to distracted drivers.  Do yourself a favor and use a hands-free device when operating your vehicle or better yet, shut your phone off or put it in the back seat so you won’t be tempted to sneak a peek at the latest text, e-mail or surely earth-shattering Facebook update that comes across the screen of your phone.   It could save your life or someone else’s.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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