Mother urges drivers to put down cell phones

10:53 AM, Aug 28, 2012   |    comments
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PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Starting Thursday, people caught texting while driving will be facing stiffer fines in Maine. The fine is going up from $100 to $250. One person hoping this change will finally make a difference in curbing the amount of distracted driving of all kinds is Judy Bouchard. Her daughter, Heather, was killed in an accident 4 years ago with a NEWS CENTER live truck.

On April 15, 2008, Heather Bouchard was driving southbound on I-295, talking on her phone. She dropped it, and when she reached down to get it, she lost control of the car and hit the live truck head on. Reporter Susan Kimball and Photographer Aaron Twombly, fortunately, were not seriously hurt. But Heather lost her life at 24 years old.

Judy Bouchard still thinks about her every day, and she's very frustrated. She's a former teacher and says she is shocked by the number of her students getting in touch with her saying they can't get their friends or even their parents to stop texting or talking behind the wheel. She'd like cell phone use while driving to be banned entirely. In the meantime, she's asking that if someone calls you from the car, you tell them, "I love you, so I'm hanging up until you get where you're going." If you're in the car and the driver is texting, do whatever it takes to get them to stop, and at least let you out of the car, the same way you would if they were a drunken driver.

Bouchard also feels that there isn't enough enforcement of distracted driving laws. State Police Major Chris Grotton says public safety officials share her concern about distracted driving, and that is why they began a 3-month intensive enforcement effort on July 1. Since the effort started, 300 drivers have been stopped for distracted driving in Maine. "We're hoping through these focused enforcement efforts that people will focus on their driving and keep our roads safer," Grotton said.

Grotton also acknowledged that enforcement of distracted driving can be particularly difficult because legal behaviors, like dialing the phone, look identical to texting. Grotton says he's encouraged that more and more people are reporting those who are driving distracted. "Really we're talking about cultural change," Grotton said. "One of the things about distracted driving is that people feel that they can do this safely and the simple fact is the statistics would disagree with that."

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 3,092 people were killed and another 416,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2010.

Grotton recommends people get apps for their smart phones that auto reply to texts while the car is in motion. Those texts say the driver is behind the wheel and unavailable.


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