How to Kill People with Your Cell Phone

By John Fabry

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) calculated that distracted driving, including cell phone use, contributed to 3,092 deaths in highway crashes last year. Cases in which investigators found that the use of electronic devices while driving were distractions include a high school bus driver using his hands-free cell phone when crashing into a stone bridge on the George Washington Parkway in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2004. The operator of a commuter railroad passenger train in California ran through a red stop signal in 2008 while texting, crashing into a freight train and killing 25 people and injuring many others. A tractor-trailer driver was distracted by his cell phone and crashed into a 15-passenger van in Kentucky, killing 11 people in 2010. Also in 2010, the mate on a tugboat pulling a barge on the Delaware River in Philadelphia was distracted by a cell phone and laptop computer. The tugboat ran over a tour boat, killing two people. Another fatal crash in 2010 was caused by a 19-year-old pickup truck driver who had sent 11 text messages in the 11 minutes just before causing a chain-reaction collision that killed two people and injured 38 others. Daniel Schatz, the driver of the pickup, was one of the two killed in the wreck. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Robert Sumwalt said, “This is becoming the new DUI, it is becoming an epidemic.”

Closer to home, on July 11, 2008, Maria Tamez was driving northbound on State Highway 35 from Angleton toward Alvin, Texas. It was a beautiful, clear, sunny day. At approximately 1 in the afternoon, Ms. Tamez entered a no-passing zone just south of Alvin. She then crossed over the double yellow line and crashed into Charles and Scotty Carpenter. Ms. Tamez had been talking on her cell phone all the way from Angleton, according to Chris Coneley, the driver directly behind her the entire time. Ms. Tamez never hit her brakes and crashed into the Carpenters at approximately 60 mph. We represented the Carpenters and, on May 17, 2011, a Brazoria County jury determined that Ms. Tamez is responsible for all of the Carpenters’ medical bills, pain and suffering, and mental anguish. According to Ray LaHood, U.S. Transportation Secretary and a crusader against distracted driving, “Our message on distracted driving is simple: there is no call or text message that is so important that it can’t wait.”

The NTSB has recommended that all states should prohibit all drivers from using portable electronic devices, such as cell phones, while behind the wheel. According to the NHTSA, more than one in six drivers send text messages while driving, and nearly half of drivers under the age of 25 are doing it. In a related story, Allstate Insurance released a report claiming that 556 teenagers lost their lives on Texas roadways in 2009. And 2009 is the same year that Texas lawmakers passed a law prohibiting talking or texting on a cellular device while behind the wheel until drivers turn 18. In the words of NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman, “No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life.”

We encourage you to follow the recommendation of Transportation Secretary LaHood and put your cell phone in the glove compartment when you get behind the wheel.

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