National attention has been focused this week on a Massachusetts teenager convicted on charges of motor vehicle homicide in a case related to distracted driving. The teenager maintained his innocence, claiming he was distracted by worries about his homework load but not by his phone, according to a report by ABC News.
Prosecutors, however, used the 18-year-old’s phone records to prove that he had been sending and receiving text messages moments before his car swerved across the center line, striking an oncoming pick-up truck driven by a “55-year-old father of three.”
If we look at how this case might have played out under the laws in place here in Oregon several noteworthy things spring to mind. The Massachusetts case was a criminal trial. Though there are no reports of alcohol being involved in the crash, here in Oregon a civil case stemming from an accident like this would be similar to a DUII action. Oregon law would allow victims and their families to file claims for medical bills and lost wages and for the loss of the society and companionship of the deceased.
At a more basic level, however, it is important to focus on the extremely reckless activity that led to the accident. Under the Oregon distracted driving law texting while driving is, by itself, an offense subject to a modest fine. Texting that leads to a horrific accident, however, is becomes a contributing factor in much more serious charges of reckless or negligent driving. Extremely reckless conduct can even justify the awarding of punitive damages.
In a bigger sense, however, the overall cost to society is almost too great to measure. A Portland distracted driving lawyer can help victims win a just settlement in court, but all of society is made poorer when a father is taken from his children, a teen is sent to prison just as his life is beginning (at, it might be added, a substantial cost to taxpayers) and the lives of so many people are disrupted for years to come. Anyone reaching for a phone while driving a car should think first about all of these costs – to themselves, their potential victims and to our society as a whole. Put in this broader context, Oregon distracted driving is not only against the law, it simply is not worth the turmoil and trauma it creates.