It’s been 10 years since Judy Bouchard’s daughter died on I-295 while en route to work from her home. The University of New England graduate was working as a teacher of students with autism.
Heather Dawn Bouchard’s phone buzzed. She took the call. It was a client. But she dropped the phone mid-conversation. She unbuckled her seat belt to reach down for it. It was the last thing she ever did. The car crossed over into the median and slammed into a van driven by a local television crew. Heather was ejected from her car and died soon after. Although she was an organ donor, her body had sustained such trauma that none of her organs were fit for use. She was just 24 years-old. The two TV crew members in the van suffered injuries, but survived.
Recently, her mother stood before a group of students at Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle. She told them of her heartache that cell phone distraction has caused their family. What the world lost that day. How her daughter would never have driven while on the phone if she knew how greatly her family would suffer for it.
“She didn’t think it could happen to her,” Bouchard told the group gathered at the safety symposium.
If only cases like this were an anomaly. The fact is, distracted driving has robbed thousands of families of their loved ones. Maine’s distracted driving law forbids the use of text messaging by all, but the use of cell phones is only banned for novice drivers with learner or intermediate licenses. It’s a primary offense for those drivers, meaning police can stop them solely for this offense. However, all other drivers are allowed to use cell phones while operating a motor vehicle (except that commercial drivers must only use hands-free cell phones, though studies have shown those aren’t any safer).
According to Distraction.gov, of the nearly 33,000 traffic accident fatalities that took place on U.S. roads in 2014, nearly 3,200 involved some type of distraction. The actual number may in fact be much higher because distraction is not as easy to track as, say, alcohol impairment. Still, more than 430,000 people in the U.S. are believed to be injured in distracted driving crashes every year. A recent study by AAA revealed distraction among teen drivers may account for as many as 60 percent of all car accidents.
Distraction does not always involve cell phones, but in an increasing number of cases, it does.
Bouchard recalled that her daughter “loved her cell phone.” She would chastise her daughter for using it while driving, but the effect was simply that her daughter wouldn’t call her parents in the car. It didn’t stop her from using it while driving.
Maine police say the problem they encounter is that officers are unable to tell whether drivers are texting or dialing. One is illegal, the other is not. Typically, it’s only after an accident that police will confiscate the phone to examine whether the driver was unlawfully texting.
Our Bangor accident lawyers are committed to representing the rights of those injured or survivors of those killed in distracted driving crashes.
If you are the victim of a Bangor car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
In wake of daughter’s death, Maine mom warns of distracted driving, April 19, 2016, By Anthony Brino, Bangor Daily News
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