A Massachusetts teenager received a two-year prison sentence for motor vehicle homicide earlier this year for a 2011 car accident that resulted from distracted driving. The term “distracted driving” refers to the operation of a motor vehicle while distracted by a mobile electronic device, typically a cell phone. In the present case, the teen was allegedly texting while driving. The case was reportedly the first in the state to involve criminal charges for distracted driving, and the judge imposed the maximum sentence allowed by the statute to send what he called a “message of deterrence” to others. The case demonstrates the legal system’s growing seriousness regarding distracted driving, and how it can affect both criminal and civil court proceedings.
The accident occurred on February 20, 2011 in Haverhill, Massachusetts at approximately 2:36 p.m. Aaron Deveau, who was 17 years old at the time, was driving and, according to his phone records, sending and receiving text messages at roughly the same time. Records reportedly showed that he sent a message at 2:34 p.m. and received a reply at 2:35. His vehicle crossed the center line of the road and collided head-on with a car driven by 55 year-old Daniel Bowley. Bowley died eighteen days later of massive head trauma.
Deveau faced multiple criminal charges as a result of the accident, including motor vehicle homicide, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, and mobile phone use during operation of a motor vehicle. Prosecutors alleged that Deveau was not paying attention to the road, and that this caused his vehicle to cross the center line and hit Bowley’s car. Deveau pleaded not guilty and claimed that, although he sent and received close to two hundred messages that day, he was not using his cell phone at the time of the accident. He claimed that his last text message before the crash was sent or received at 2:33 p.m. Prosecutors showed phone records with the 2:34 and 2:35 messages, suggesting that the two messages might have been deleted from his phone.