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Texting drivers

Published June 11. 2012 05:02PM

Last week, a Massachusetts teenager was sentenced to spend a year in jail for a fatal traffic accident that took the life of a 55-year-old New Hampshire grandfather and seriously injured his girlfriend.

Prosecutors said Aaron Deveau, a 17-year-old high school student in 2011, received and sent 193 text messages the day his car crossed the center line and crashed head-on into a pickup truck driven by Donald Bowley, a 55-year-old grandfather, and seriously injured his girlfriend. One detective who testified said the impact of the crash left the two "almost folded into the floorboards."

Deveau was sentenced to 2 1/2 years for motor vehicle homicide with one year to serve, and two years for texting while driving with one year to serve. The sentences are to be served concurrently.

Given the number of horrifying accidents, laws governing drivers who text and drive deserve to be strengthened and offenders given the maximum sentence. Once Deveau got behind the wheel and began texting while driving, his car became a deadly weapon.

After the verdict, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said the case proved how lives can be "forever changed" in a split second.

When it comes to teens who text and drive, the Massachusetts teen is no exception. In a recent survey, about 58 percent of high school seniors said they had texted or emailed while driving during the previous month and about 43 percent of high school juniors admitted they did the same thing.

Distracted driving deaths are most common in teens, and are now blamed for about 16 percent of teen motor vehicle deaths.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calls texting and cell phone use behind the wheel "a national epidemic,"

Thankfully, many states are cracking down. Thirty-nine states now ban texting for all age groups, and an additional five states outlaw it for novice teen drivers.

Pennsylvania's law banning text messaging while driving was approved by the state Senate and House last November and went into effect in March after being signed by Gov. Tom Corbett. The law allows police officers to stop and cite offenders for that reason alone, and violators face a $50 fine.

Although the bill prohibits texting while behind the wheel, it does not ban handheld cell phone use while driving. Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre and Erie had bans on cell phone use by drivers (Allentown's was overturned by a judge) unless a hands-free attachment was in use. The local distracted driving laws became unenforceable, however, once the state's texting ban went into effect.

During the bill-signing in Harrisburg in the spring, Gov. Corbett said what many proponents of stricter law enforcement believe.

"If you have an urgent need to text, you must pull over and park ... no text message is worth a human life. The message of this legislation is drive now and text later," Corbett said.

By Jim Zbick

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