On February 20, 2011, 17-year-old Aaron Deveau sent and received 193 text messages—a fairly typical amount, considering 30 percent of teenagers send more than 100 texts per day (the average, according to a 2011 Pew Research study, is 60 per day).
The problem was that Deveau was behind the wheel while he received some of those messages. According to prosecutors, at 2:34 p.m. and 2:35 p.m., the Massachusetts teen received two text messages. Cell phone logs indicated that a message was sent from Deveau’s phone at 2:34 p.m. One minute after the exchange, at 2:36 p.m., he crossed over the middle divide and crashed head-on into another vehicle, killing a 55-year-old father of three and severely injuring another passenger.
Deveau, who pleaded not guilty, claimed that he wasn’t texting but rather “distracted” by homework. However, the teen reportedly deleted the two texts immediately after the accident, a move that prosecutors claimed indicated he knew he was illegally texting and driving.
In addition, a videotape recorded by police after the crash shows Deveau asking: “If anything happens to them, if one passes away, what would happen to me?”
The answer came this week. Now 18, Deveau was sentenced to two and a half years behind bars, with a year to serve and the remainder suspended, making him the first person to be convicted of vehicular homicide for texting. He will not be allowed to drive for another 15 years.
Texting while driving is one of the most dangerous things you can do behind the wheel. A Car & Driver test from 2009 found that driving while sending a text impaired driving ability more than being drunk or reading email—and the difference isn’t even close.
The real-life repercussions of texting and driving have been felt from the start. In 2008, a Metrolink engineer was texting while operating a commuter train that killed 25 people and injuring over 100 others. In 2010, a 19-year-old Missouri teen received 11 texts in the 11 minutes before he crashed his pickup and was rear-ended by two schoolbuses full of children. The pile-up killed the 19-year-old and a 15-year-old student.
By most accounts, Deveau is a typical teenager, caught in unfortunate circumstances. He was just five months behind the wheel when the accident happened, inexperienced and tired from a shift working as a dishwasher at a nursing home. His alleged actions after the accident—deleting texts, blaming homework—are those of a scared teenager wanting deperately to avoid jail. Any number of adolescents, and adults, would have done the same.
But this week’s landmark judgment is a message, not only to Deveau but to drivers everywhere. Texting behind the wheel is already a crime in Washington, D.C., and 38 states, including Massachusetts. The fact that prosecutors are now taking these cases to trial shows that states are getting serious about stopping distracted drivers and holding them responsible for their actions.
Speaking to CBS last year, National Transportation Safety Board chairman Deborah Hersman put it best: “No call, no text, no update is worth a human life.”
Have you given up texting and driving? Let us know in the comments