“People are going to start to recognize that it could be them."
That's what Jeff Larson, president of the nonprofit Safe Roads Alliance, believes is the value of Wednesday's guilty verdict and jail sentence for Aaron Deveau, a Haverhill 18-year-old charged in the state's first homicide case involving texting-while-driving.
"I think that’s one of the reasons that people were up in arms about the verdict, because so many people do this," Larson added in an interview with WBUR Morning Edition host Bob Oakes. "And they think: 'That could be me, that could be me in jail, that could be me who loses their license for that period of time.' "
(In addition to the jail sentence for causing a 2011 fatal crash, a judge ordered that Deveau surrender his driver's license for 15 years.)
Larson said he also believes that all drivers — not just teens who tend to text the most — are taking notice of the verdict.
“While teens certainly do a lot of texting, I think adults tend to look at teens being the ones who are the most dangerous in this, and that’s not the case," he said. "Adults do the bulk of the driving, they do the bulk of the texting [and emailing on their cellphones]. It’s not a teen issue; it’s for the rest of us.”
To curb distracted driving, Larson pointed to businesses that are becoming proactive in trying to stem their employees' cellphone use on the road.
"Businesses are more and more relying on communication with people who are on the road, and businesses ... are being sued," he said. "Not only are people going to jail, but businesses are starting to feel the effect on their bottom line."
Larson said the state's current texting-while-driving law is tough to enforce, and he reiterated his organization's call for legislators to pass a hands-free cellphone requirement.
"The law as it's written doesn't allow for that enforcement," he said. "It's difficult to see and know what people are doing in their cars, which is one of the reasons the Safe Roads Alliance has been hoping that the Legislature would pass a hands-free requirement so that the police have the ability to have a visual cue and be able to pull people over."
Larson said he's "optimistic" that such a hands-free law will eventually pass.
This program aired on June 7, 2012.