With the holiday season officially upon us and many more drivers on the roadways, Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III is calling attention to the rapidly increasing number of motor vehicle fatalities plaguing Bristol County.
Since September 12th, 24 people have lost their lives as a result of motor vehicle crashes in Bristol County, according to state police statistics. Six of these fatalities occurred on Interstate Highways that wind through Bristol County (Rte. 95=3, Rte. 195 =2, Rte. 495=1) and the other 17 happened on local roads and state highways, including three on Route 24 during the past few weeks.
To put the rising number of motor vehicle fatalities in Bristol County during the past two-and-a-half months into context; there were a total of 25 motor vehicle deaths in the county from January 1, 2019 through September 2, 2019. This means Bristol County has seen essentially the same number of motor vehicle deaths during the last two-plus months than it had during the previous eight months of the year.
While the reasons for each motor vehicle fatality are all different and fact-specific, it is clear that people are driving too aggressively, driving while distracted and driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is also clear that this is a statewide problem. According to the National Safety Council, motor vehicle fatalities in Massachusetts rose by 46 percent between 2013 and 2017.
“Based upon the rash of motor vehicle fatalities recently, it is becoming increasingly clear that people are very distracted while driving and are simply driving too aggressively. Unfortunately this can have tragic consequences that families and friends have to live with forever,” District Attorney Quinn said.
District Attorney Quinn is hopeful that legislation passed by the Legislature last week which will ban the use of handheld devices by drivers on Massachusetts roadways will make a significant impact on the high number of motor vehicle fatalities in Bristol County. It is important to note that even after Gov. Baker signs the bill into law, it will not take effect until the holiday season has passed.
The district attorney’s office is the lead investigatory agency on all fatalities in the county, including all motor vehicle-related fatalities, and is also responsible for prosecuting all criminal charges that arise from motor vehicle deaths. The criminal charges that could be lodged and the potential consequences of a conviction for crimes associated with motor vehicle fatalities are wide-ranging. However, the district attorney’s office would like to remind citizens that causing death while behind the wheel while either intoxicated or while using a cell phone are serious crimes that often result in jail or state prison sentences for those convicted. This is not how we want any county residents to be spending their holiday season. The impact on the victims, the families of the victims and the defendants themselves when a death is caused as a result of careless, reckless or intoxicated driving cannot be underestimated.
“Personally, I find it increasingly dangerous to be driving on the highway trying to respond to distracted, aggressive and reckless drivers. I implore people to slow down and pay attention to what they’re doing on the roadways. This would clearly result in fewer accidents and tragic deaths. If you have had too much to drink, please call a friend or family member so a potential tragedy can be avoided,” District Attorney Quinn said. “I applaud the Legislature for passing the hands-free driving legislation. I also thank Senator Mark Montigny for his advocacy on this issue during the past decade. This can go a long way towards reducing distracted driving if people comply with the law.”
The district attorney’s office also wants to inform the public about the increased potential for jail or prison time when leaving the scene of an accident where death or personal injury have occurred. There are many potential scenarios where a driver would not be charged with a crime even when death or injury results. But once a driver flees from a crash and does not contact police, the incident automatically becomes a serious crime that carries mandatory minimum jail or prison sentences. Even in cases where a driver would be charged with misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide for their negligence, the potential punishment to that driver increases substantially when they flee.
The district attorney’s office is urging people involved in crashes to not put themselves in serious jeopardy by leaving the scene of accidents. Leaving the scene not only puts you in a position where you are likely to be incarcerated, but it also puts the families and friends of victims in heart-wrenching situations of prolonged grief. Victims' families are put through the additional grief of not only losing a loved one, but not knowing who is responsible. No one wants to get in trouble, but fleeing and eventually getting caught results in much worse punishment. The vast majority of drivers believe nothing will happen to them. Most do not have the intention of hurting someone, but in making a mistake, distracted, impaired or aggressive drivers can forever change their lives, their families' lives, and the lives of the victims' families.