Conviction in text-driving killing should be a wake-up call

Aaron Deveau was only 17 when he crossed the center line while texting and killed Daniel Bowley, Jr. of New Hampshire,  the father of three grown children. Deveau, now 18 years old, is the first person to be convicted under a  law making it a crime to injure someone while texting.  Even without the specific texting ban, the tragedy would still look like vehicular homicide, or at least manslaughter.  But the horror, for the irresponsible, thoughtless youth and his family, no less than for the family and friends of the victim, should drive home the unspeakable danger of texting while driving.

AP photo

On the day of the collision, Deveau had exchanged 193 texts, two of them in the two minutes before the crash.  On the stand, he still denied he had been texting, saying he was preoccupied by homework and swerved to avoid a car in front that had slowed down.  According to ABC News, drivers who text are 23 times more likely to get into a crash than those who are not.  Clearly Deveau was inviting trouble, and he got it.

There are lessons here for both texters and cell phone users.  The state’s Safe Driving Law now bans texting by anyone and cell phone use by drivers under 18.  I don’t have statistics on the regularity of police enforcement of the ban, but, whatever the numbers, monitoring should be more aggressive. And the law needs beefing up. We have all seen adults distracted by cell phone use. I’d like to have a dollar for every driver whose arm, elbow propped on the car door, is holding phone to ear, blocking the view of anything to his or her left.  A near miss is another way of saying near collision.  The legislature should follow the lead of California and nine other states and amend the Safe Driving Act to ban handheld cell phones.

Tighter rules and better enforcement going forward won’t bring back Daniel Bowley, Jr. or salvage a normal life for Aaron Deveau.  He was sentenced to 2 and 1/2 years of a possible four. He’s going to do a year in jail, and he’ll have to do community service when he gets out on probation for the the remainder of his term.  Plus, he won’t be allowed to drive for 15 years. He’ll have to live with this for the rest of his life.

Part of Deveau’s community service should be to go into high school classrooms and talk about his experience, about the need to obey the law and drive attentively, and about how you can ruin your life and those of others by indifference to the law and ignoring the rules of common sense.  He should have to show the picture of the person he killed to drive home the point.

One thought on “Conviction in text-driving killing should be a wake-up call

  1. People’s texting habits and general road safety have little, if anything, to do with laws (or lack of them). These things are always cultural. Texting while driving is just *bad driving* and bad driving is no different to bad fashion sense – it’s just a product of upbringing, ignorance and group conformity amongst your peers all of whom will no doubt share a similar lack of driving skills/ fashion sense (or whatever).

    I compare bad driving skills to bad fashion sense NOT to trivialise bad driving but because of how absurd it would be to try and make people more fashionable by fining them for looking unfashionable – or even locking them inside a cage for more serious fashion crimes. If bad fashion could potentially cause injury and death it would still be no less ridiculous to try and solve the problem through threats of fines or prison – or threats of having to go naked for 5 years.

    After all, how do we learn to drive in the first place? Are we put inside a car and told to drive to the next town and back while being threatened with fines and prison sentences if we make any mistakes? No. Because that would not work. So why should that strategy work to make people *better* drivers once they’ve passed their test, if we already know it wouldn’t work to make people adequate drivers in the first place?

    More laws just mean another income stream for the police and private jails and higher taxes and bigger government to administer and pay for it all (with our money). THAT is the reason for most new traffic laws (and indeed most laws generally). The government is an agency of force – by definition. Force is how the government ‘solves’ all of society’s ‘problems’. Laws are (again by definition) just the opinions of government backed up by the use of force or even violence against the public. Laws are enFORCEd. The government is like the parents who beat their children as a deterrent to ‘bad behaviour’ rather then encourage them to become more rational, responsible, grown up and more highly evolved beings… perhaps by leading the way by being rational, responsible and more highly evolved beings themselves (gasp!).

    There are so many ways to *encourage* people to be better drivers. If you got rid of all speed limits and instead put a sharp spike on the front of every steering wheel that would immediately make everyone much safer drivers! That would be rather extreme of course, but we do live in a culture which is just as extreme – only in the opposite direction: car adverts, Hollywood movies, gadget (ie cell phone) advertising….. they all depict a world where every road is empty, all cars run silently and all gadgets elevate us to a God-like status of omnipresence, immortality and happy consequence free consumer utopia. And cars themselves are now so safe and silent and with such good road handling that we feel totally detached from reality when we drive. So where is the increased awareness raising of road safety (of our mortality!) to balance all of this out?

    One sensible way to ENCOURAGE better driving (instead of extracting money from bad drivers after the accident has already happened) would be to have more driving ‘top up tests’ which could be linked to insurance premiums. The better driver you become the lower your premium. Immediately you have an incentive to improve your driving, rather than a deterrent to being ‘naughty’.

    And of course education in schools (as you wisely mentioned) would probably be the most effective thing. And that leads on to parenting and ‘peer pressure’ from friends and colleagues and ROLE MODELS. Raising awareness until it becomes a socially unacceptable is how drink driving turned from act of bravado 30+ years ago to a social stigma today. Drink driving laws don’t really achieve much in the end.

    The same needs to happen for texting. It needs to become *socially unacceptable* – that means it’s down to us to sort it out, rather than government.

    The main effect of bringing in texting laws is that instead of bad drivers texting with the phone held on the wheel so they can keep looking past the phone at the road they just end up texting with the phone hidden down by their knees instead which is far more dangerous.

    The government can only ever act as a hammer, but not every problem in society is a nail.


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