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Massachusetts’ texting while driving law

By Thanh November 01, 2010 Boston, MA, Life 0 Comments

I found some information regarding the Massachusetts’ texting while driving law from the Sugarman blog. The following was written by W. Thomas Smith of Sugarman and Sugarman:

Massachusetts, as of September 30, 2010, joined the growing list of states to ban texting while operating a motor vehicle.

While the new Massachusetts cell phone use while driving law provides fines for violations, it will have implications for accidents caused by driving while texting. In case of an injury-causing accident, violation of the statute by texting while operating a vehicle will be evidence of negligence on the part of the vehicle operator. At the trial of a personal injury case, the judge would likely read the texting while driving statute to the jury and instruct the jury that it could consider violation of the statute as evidence of negligence.  Of course, there would have to be evidence that the operator was texting while driving. In the case of an automobile accident, this might be easier than for a non-accident police stop. For example, an investigating police officer finding a driver’s iPhone, Blackberry or other device with an incomplete, unsent text message might well lead to the conclusion that there was a violation of the statute, and the issuance of a citation based on that violation. In the case of an accident, even an opened incoming text message timed at or just before the moment of impact would likely support the same conclusion, and could be used as evidence of negligence, regardless of whether the driver was actually cited for violation of the texting while driving statute. The enactment of the texting-while-driving law may also make accident witnesses more aware of, and therefore more likely to observe and testify, that a driver was texting at the time of a collision.

The texting-while-driving parts of the new law have been getting most of the publicity; however, there is also an important new provision relating to under-18 drivers that prohibits any cell or mobile phone use while driving. Like the texting provisions, violation of new teenage driving law would be evidence of a driver’s negligence in an automobile accident involving an under-18 driver.  Proof of a violation might be easier than the texting law given the availability from cell phone providers of incoming and outgoing use records with date and time information.

Given that texting-while-driving and cell-phone use by a minor operator are now illegal in Massachusetts, it will be even more important that a personal injury lawyer promptly investigate an accident and obtain cell and mobile device records where there is any suspicion that use of these devices played a role in the accident.

My reaction

I’m totally for this law as I find texting while driving very distracting and I think this should make our roads and highways a bit safer. But as an Android smart phone user, we have this featured called Voice-to-Text which allows us to to “voice text.” This involves just speaking into the phone and it will automatically convert your speech to text message. I love this feature. It’s less distracting to drivers. So I replied to the blog post of W. Thomas Smith and asked him if voice texting still considered “texting while driving” and he replied with the following:

Here’s the actual wording of the statute:

“No operator of a motor vehicle shall use a mobile telephone, or any handheld device capable of accessing the internet, to manually compose, send or read an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle. For the purposes of this section, an operator shall not be considered to be operating a motor vehicle if the vehicle is stationary and not located in a part of the public way intended for travel.”

The statute has a definition for electronic message:

“… a piece of digital communication that is designed or intended to be transmitted between a mobile electronic device and any other electronic device; provided, however, that electronic message shall include, but not be limited to, electronic mail, electronic message, a text message, an instant message, a command or request to access an internet site, or any message that includes a keystroke entry sent between mobile devices.”

So, it’s not completely clear whether voice-to-text is prohibited, but the best guess is that it is not prohibited. The reasoning is that voice-to-text should not be considered “manually” composing, sending or reading an electronic message. However, as with all new statutes, not every situation is clearly covered and the courts will have the job of interpreting what the statute means. Whether covered or not by the statute, a driver causing an accident and personal injuries while using a voice-to-text device could be found to be inattentive and negligent.

Thanks again W. Thomas Smith. This is great information.



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