Presently in Massachusetts, individuals who are 18 years of age or older are permitted to operate a motor vehicle while using a cell phone, although texting and driving is banned for all age groups. There has been much public attention however as to whether the current ban against cell phone use for persons under 18 should be extended to all adult drivers. Editorials have been written in support of such a broad ban. Public safety interest groups have also advocated for such a ban. In fact, many states throughout the country are a step ahead of Massachusetts and have already made cell phone use by all drivers illegal. Bills are pending in the Massachusetts legislature to expand this driving ban, which would certainly provide greater safety to the public. As usual, politics dominates the Massachusetts legislature. It is not unheard of for lobbyists who represent powerful financial special interests to affect the legislative process. For example, one would think that Massachusetts auto insurance companies would favor such legislature because a likely consequence would be a reduction in motor vehicle accidents, and thus, a reduction in the claims for property damage and personal injury such insurers would have to pay. On the other hand, one might also think that the telecommunications companies which provide cell phone service would see a reduction in cell phone use from such a law. Additionally, the same telecommunications companies might even see a reduction in advertising revenue if people are on their cell phones less because of such a broad ban. Hopefully, public safety and the public interest will prevail and we in Massachusetts will see a broad ban on cell phone use while driving.
What Are The Benefits?
Now how might such a change in the law benefit people who get hurt in auto accidents? Well, it’s simple. If someone gets hurt in a car accident and the driver in the other vehicle who is alleged to be at fault was on the cell phone at the time of the accident, and Massachusetts had a statute making such cell phone use illegal, then a violation of this statute would be considered evidence of negligence. Presently, without the benefit of such a statute, an injured person could only argue that the other driver on a cell phone was likely or probably distracted and not paying proper attention and failed to keep a proper lookout as to traffic conditions, etc. Basically, a statute making such cell phone use illegal would in effect allow an injured party to claim that the standard of care in operating a vehicle was violated because this statute was not complied with. This would be powerful evidence for injured parties to use in negotiating claims against the insurance companies who insure drivers who cause such accidents. In effect, injured party claims would more likely settle in a timely fashion and would not be dragged out through years of litigation. And, even if some cases were litigated in court before a judge or jury, it would be a great asset for injured claimants to be able to assert that the other driver alleged to be at fault was not only on a cell phone at the time of collision, but that this conduct violated the standard as set forth in Massachusetts driving safety laws.