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Landmark texting while driving accident case ends in motor vehicle homicide conviction

August 28, 2012 by Steven M. Gursten

As attorneys, it has become common to see preventable crashes caused by texting. People still lie, but it is pretty easy to get the records and show they were texting when they caused a car accident.

And one question we are often asked by the people we are helping is what are the penalties for texting while driving in Michigan? I answered this question in a recent blog, and went as far to address what happens if you hurt or kill someone while texting and driving here.

The Michigan texting while driving ban prohibits reading, typing or sending text messages using a wireless two-way communication device while driving. Violators face a fine of $100 for the first offense and $200 for subsequent offenses.

But the Michigan texting law only imposes fines on drivers.

When people are hurt or killed due to distracted driving car accidents, and distracted driving definitely  includes texting while driving a car, the penalties can change.  These penalties fall under criminal laws not necessarily related to texting and driving.

I’d like to share an article today about the first driver in the U.S. to be charged and convicted of motor vehicle homicide by texting. This case was in Massachusetts.

Prosecutors said Aaron Deveau, 18, who pleaded not guilty, was texting in Feb. 20, 2011, when his vehicle swerved across the center line and crashed head on into Donald Bowley’s truck, killing the 55-year-old father of three, according to an article on Good Morning America.

Deveau was charged with:

  • Motor vehicle homicide,
  • Negligent operation of a motor vehicle,
  • Using a mobile phone while operating a motor vehicle,
  • Reading or sending an electronic message,
  • A marked lanes violation, and
  • Negligent operation and injury from mobile phone use.

He faces up to four years in prison.

Michigan criminal sentences for people who are killed in texting while driving

I believe Massachusetts is taking the right approach. If Michigan drivers knew they could face very  tough criminal charges, this  might help them think twice before they text behind the wheel.

Below are two cases in Michigan where drivers were punished for texting while driving. But remember, these cases do not fall under any  specific “texting while driving” criminal statute:

  • A Lapeer, Michigan, man who police say caused a fatal crash while texting and driving was sentenced to just one month in jail and 12 months of probation in May 2011. This was the first case of its kind since the state passed the texting while driving ban in August 2010, according to published reports.
  • Jeremy Griffin — who slammed his snowplow into a 19-year-old while allegedly distracted driving in Muskegon, killing him at the scene after his legs were amputated by the crash — was placed on probation for six months in February 2012. He was also ordered to perform 60 hours of community service and to pay $850 in fines, fees and costs, according to published reports.

– Steve Gursten is an attorney at  Michigan Auto Law, Michigan’s largest law firm specializing in helping people injured in car accidents. He frequently writes about distracted driving and is available for comment.

Michigan Auto Law helps people injured  in car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights. Call (248) 353-7575 to speak with one of our lawyers.

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