by Jay Perry
Recently, Aaron Deveau, an 18 year old student from Massachusetts was sentenced, to 2 ½ years with one year to serve in prison for a car crash in 2011 that killed one person and serious injured another. There was strong evidence that Mr. Deveau (who was 17 at the time) had been texting while driving, and he was convicted of motor vehicle homicide and negligent operation while texting. The second charge is a relatively new criminal charge in Massachusetts and applies only to cases involving injury. Mr. Deveau also had his driving privileges suspending for 15 years.
While Tennessee does not have a criminal charge specifically related to texting, our vehicular homicide law prohibits the reckless killing of another when driving via “conduct creating a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to a person.” Such a crime is a Class C Felony carrying between 3-6 years of punishment. There is also the charge of reckless homicide, a Class D (2-4 years), which prohibits the “reckless killing of another.”
The conviction of Mr. Deveau (and sentence) demonstrates that many states are recognizing the dangers of “texting while driving”. Text messaging while driving is currently banned in 39 states with another 5 states banning it for younger drivers. While it is hard to know exactly how many crashes are due to texting, it is estimated that “distracted driving” was the cause of 18% of all accidents in 2010. These accidents (in 2010) were responsible for the death of 3092 people with an additional 416,000 estimated injuries.
Despite these laws and sobering statistics, it does not appear that many people fully understand the risks. A recently released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that 58% of high-school seniors admitted to texting or emailing while driving in the past month. For high school juniors the percentage who admitted doing so was 43%. The survey involved questioning more than 15,000 high school students from across the country. In many ways, these results aren’t surprising. Anyone who has been a teenager (or who now is the parent of one) understands that most adolescents don’t fully appreciate risk. There is increasing evidence that the part of the brain (the striatum) that seeks rewarding experiences matures earlier than the prefrontal cortex, which regulates the ability to control behavior and overcome impulsivity.There are underway a great many educational campaigns to help students appreciate the dangers of texting while driving. We can only hope that as texting becomes a more and more common method of communication, these dangers are better internalized, not only by adolescents but adults as well. The story of Aaron Deveau is a tragedy for all involved. It was a terrible accident that took the life of Donald Bowley Jr., seriously injured his girlfriend, and has changed Mr. Deveau’s life forever.