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The deadly consequences of distracted driving

On Behalf of | Sep 21, 2021 | Motor Vehicle Accidents

The suffering that victims and their families must endure after a serious traffic accident is life-altering. When the accident was the result of the actions of a distracted or impaired driver, the senselessness of an avoidable tragedy can make their pain even worse.

Distracted or careless driving habits cause thousands of lives in Massachusetts and across the country, and the incidents of these kinds of accidents has been rising in recent years. According to a recent study by the National Safety Council, an estimated 42,060 motor vehicle fatalities occurred in 2020, which is the highest it has been in 13 years.

But that’s not all. In 2020, there were actually fewer vehicles on the road than the previous year, measured as total vehicle miles travelled (VMT) on our nation’s roadways. When factoring in the VMT with the rate of fatalities in 2020, the death rate rose to 24% over the previous year, which is the sharpest increase in fatalities since the NSC began recording nearly 100 years ago.

Cellphone use in Massachusetts

According to the NHTSA, drivers who are talking on a cellphone while operating a motor vehicle are four times as likely as other drivers to cause an accident, and as likely to cause an accident as a driver who is legally drunk. In Massachusetts, the recent passage of a hands-free law now prohibits motor vehicle drivers from using any electronic device while driving unless it is in hands-free mode.

The penalties for breaking the law include:

  • $100 fine for a first offense
  • $250 fine and mandatory completion of a distracted driving program on a second offense
  • $500 fine, insurance surcharge and completion of a distracted driving program for subsequent violations

Drivers under the age of 18 are not permitted to use electronic devices at all.

Proving negligence after an accident

After an automobile accident, the injured party can pursue a claim if they believe that the other driver was distracted, reckless, drowsy or otherwise impaired. Distracted driving is a form of negligence that if proven, will create liability for the other party. The elements that the plaintiff must show are:

  • the other driver had a duty of care to other drivers on the road
  • there was a breach of that duty
  • the breach was the proximate cause of the injuries to the plaintiff

Massachusetts follows the theory of contributory negligence, in which the damages the plaintiff may recover diminishes in proportion to their percentage of fault in contributing to the accident.