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.
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.