Earlier today, a Haverhill, Mass., court convicted teenager Aaron Deveau of motor vehicle homicide for texting while he was driving. It is one of the first cases of its kind following the state’s new law that bans texting while driving. The 18-year-old was allegedly texting, and it was this distraction which caused his car to veer across the center line and crash head-on into another vehicle. That car’s driver, 55-year-old Donald Bowley, suffered massive injuries and died after 18 days in the hospital. The court judge sentenced Deveau to one year in prison, suspending the rest of the concurrent sentences from the verdict.
The only positive thing in such a horrible situation is that maybe, just maybe, people will start thinking about their actions behind the wheel. To me, the idea of texting — which requires the use of both hands — while driving is just plain dumb. But then again, I’m not a teenager who uses texting as a primary form of interpersonal relationships. Maybe some of those teens, also new to driving, will hear of this case and see the possible consequences of this kind of distracted driving. I hope so.
Then again, maybe it’s not just teens who need to pay attention. Even if you don’t text, you are probably just as distractible when you’re behind the wheel.
Think about it. How often do you glance away to change the radio or fiddle with your iPod settings? Or turn to talk to your passengers — or the kids in the rear seats? Or let your eyes linger over a neighbor’s pretty new landscaping? Or peer through the sunroof at the amazing sky at sunset?
In that instant, the world can change.
A number of years ago, I had just picked up the younger kids from preschool. It was an almost unbearably beautiful day. I had to drop something off at Town Hall, and took an atypical route home, up a pretty main road, the sort that garners my town all kinds of notice. The kids were bouncy and ready to get out and play. We were listening to music, singing along, laughing. Mitzi was unusually active, unbuckling herself and standing up a few times, ignoring my eyes in the rear view mirror and my repeated command to sit down.
Finally, I couldn’t take it — I turned around and raised my voice. And that’s when the crash happened.
The car in front of me had stopped short because the car in front of him had stopped to suddenly turn into the library driveway. I had looked ahead in just enough time to know that, despite slamming on my brakes and turning the wheel, there was nothing I could do to stop the impact. Nothing.
In the end, luckily, blessedly, no one was seriously hurt. Though I was driving at about 30 mph, the airbags did not go off. The kids had a few seat belt bruises, and I had a cut on my leg. More fortunate were the passengers in the other car — my car was bigger, heavier and I really smashed the holy heck out of the rear end. The passengers were all seniors, and a couple were taken to the hospital as a precaution (thankfully, none were hurt).
That accident lingers in my mind every day — I am even more cautious behind the wheel, and am a little paranoid about driving. I still have the occasional nightmare about it, and never take for granted that we all walked away.
Because, instead of hitting a car, it could have been a person I struck while distracted behind the wheel. I could have killed someone.
Today’s verdict is a sad one. One life lost, another irrevocably damaged, just because of a little stupidity, a bad decision, and a moment of distraction.
I hope at the very least we can all learn something from this story. When I first sat behind the wheel of a car, excited and eager, my mom, who was teaching me to drive, put her hand on top of mine and said, “This is a deadly weapon. Never forget that.”
She was right.