Every day in the U.S., 8 people are killed and another 1,160 are injured in car accidents caused by distracted drivers. In 2013, that amounted to 3,170 deaths and 431,000 injuries, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Law enforcement officials across Massachusetts sought to tackle this issue last month - April was distracted driving awareness month - and new research suggests they had their work cut out for them.
As The Boston Globe reported, an analysis of the social media hashtag #whiledriving found scores of drivers throughout the Commonwealth snapping photos and recording videos - and uploading those images - while they are driving. A single search of that hashtag just on Instagram turned up 18,000 results.
Massachusetts ranked No. 7th in the nation for having the most #whiledriving hashtags. Other hashtags used in conjunction with #whiledriving included:
Take this in conjunction with the recent three-year-long longitudinal driver behavior study of 3,500 motorists published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America (PNAS), which revealed drivers are distracted more than half the time they are behind the wheel.
The primary distraction among drivers? Smart phones.
To combat this problem, the Massachusetts State Police conducted a series of special patrols last month, designed to raise awareness specifically about dialing, texting or reading text messages on handheld devices.
M.G.L. Ch. 90, Section 8M is referred to as Massachusetts' Distracted Driving Law. The statute stipulates that no one under the age of 18 is allowed to operate any mobile electronic device (i.e., smartphone, pager, laptop, video game, digital camera, etc.) while also operating the vehicle. Violation of this statute is a civil offense, for which a first violation is penalized by a $100 fine, a 60-day license suspension and a driver's education course. A second offense is met with a $250 fine and a 180-day license suspension. A third-time offense is met with a $500 fine and a 1-year license suspension.
Mobile phone use is also prohibited for operators of motorized public transport vehicles, resulting in a $500 fine.
Additionally, all drivers over 18 can be cited for "improper use of a mobile phone," which is defined as a situation in which either both hands are off the steering wheel while the driver is using the phone or use of the device has interfered with driving.
Texting while driving is illegal for all motorists, and can result in a first-offense fine of $100.
If, however, an individual negligently operates a vehicle due to mobile phone use and causes injury to someone else, it is then considered a criminal offense. An under-18 driver will receive a 180-day license suspension and have to pay a $500 reinstatement fee. A driver over-18 who violates this provision will receive a 60-day suspension with a $500 reinstatement fee.
All of this, of course, is in addition to the civil liability that may be imposed by drivers who cause a serious accident while distracted. If an injured person's related medical bills are in excess of $2,000 (or involve a broken bone, disfigurement or long-term disability), he or she can file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver to recover damages from the auto insurer.