A Massachusetts teen has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for causing a fatal car crash while texting, reports the Boston Globe. On Wednesday, a district court judge imposed the maximum penalty on 18 year-old Aaron Deveau, the first Massachusetts driver to be convicted of the offense since the state criminalized texting and driving in September 2010.
In court, prosecutors argued that the teen "played Russian roulette" on the afternoon of February 20, 2011. While Deveau claimed that he didn't remember texting and driving that day, his phone records revealed that he sent a total of 193 text messages on the day of the crash, a few of them in the minutes just before he veered across a street's center line and struck a truck head-on. The truck's driver, 55 year-old Donald Bowley Jr., sustained serious head trauma and died 18 days after the collision. Bowley's girlfriend was also seriously injured.
The jury deliberated for only three hours before convicting Deveau on charges of causing a motor vehicle accident while texting and motor vehicle homicide. He will serve the sentences concurrently. In consideration of Deveau's age and his clean criminal record, the judge suspended a portion of the sentence: Deveau will serve one year of his prison term and lose his driver's license for 15 years.
David Teater, senior director of transportation initiatives for the National Safety Council, praised the judge's ruling in an interview with msnbc.com: "This is a threat that did not exist just a few years ago, and we've never had to understand how being connected to a mobile world was dangerous," Teater said. "Unfortunately now the way we're beginning to understand the danger of it is by people getting hurt and dying. And that needs to change."
Indeed. Three years ago, a study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute determined that texting is "associated with the highest [crash] risk of all cell phone related tasks": VTTI's research revealed that a texting driver's crash risk is over 20 times that of a driver who isn't using a cell phone. Based on the study's findings, the Institute strongly recommended a total texting ban for all U.S. drivers in all moving vehicles, and issued the following warning:
"As shown in findings overview, this cellphone task has the potential to create a true crash epidemic if texting-type tasks continue to grow in popularity and as the generation of frequent text message senders reach driving age in large numbers."
Americans sent 1.5 trillion text messages in 2009, the same year the VTTI study was released. By the end of 2010, that number jumped to 2.1 trillion, and driver distraction had become a factor in one in every 10 fatal car accidents throughout the country.