Victim of 2018 crash pushes lawmakers to increase distracted driving penalties

  • Lisa Beaudoin, a victim of a 2018 vehicle crash in Amherst, speaks at the Legislative Office Building in Concord to advocate for a law increasing distracted driving penalties, Jan. 14, 2020. Ethan DeWitt—Ethan DeWitt

  • Pictures of the injuries and treatment of Lisa Beaudoin, a victim of a 2018 vehicle crash in Amherst. Beaudoin spoke at the Legislative Office Building in Concord to advocate for a law increasing distracted driving penalties, Jan. 14, 2020. Ethan DeWitt—Ethan DeWitt

Monitor staff
Published: 1/18/2020 6:40:07 PM
Modified: 1/18/2020 6:39:10 PM

Thirteen months ago, a head-on vehicular collision changed the course of Lisa Beaudoin’s life.

This year, she’s looking to change New Hampshire law.

Beaudoin, who broke multiple bones in the 2018 accident in Amherst and spent months in recovery, told her story at the State House on Tuesday as a cautionary tale. In December of that year, a Chevrolet Silverado driven by Robert Sheridan crossed the yellow line and slammed into Beaudoin’s vehicle.

Sheridan, Beaudoin’s attorney says, had been looking at a text on his phone just before the crash. He was convicted of vehicular assault and sentenced to a year in jail – suspended down to 60 days. But Beaudoin says the damage and cost to her has been much higher.

On Tuesday, lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee heard from Beaudoin during a hearing on Senate Bill 436, brought by Sen. Shannon Chandley, an Amherst Democrat, which would increase the minimum criminal penalties for vehicular crashes that involve distracted driving.

Raising those penalties is the only way to deter drivers from tempting behaviors and serve justice to victims, Beaudoin argues.

Chandley’s bill would connect the state’s distracted driving statute to its motor vehicle laws – adding harsher penalties to drivers whose use of cell phones contribute to accidents.

Under present law, drivers who break the law can face convictions ranging from low misdemeanors to felonies. But whether or not they were using a mobile electronic device during that misdemeanor or crime has minimal effect on how much jail time they earn. If caught using a cell phone or electronic device, the fine is $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second and $500 for a third.

Senate Bill 436 would keep those fines, but would allow the use of a device to increase the severity of the first sentence. For instance, if a driver caused a death or injury and was charged with vehicular assault, a Class A misdemeanor, that charge would be elevated to a Class B felony if a mobile electronic device had been used during the accident.

That could mean the difference between a maximum 12 months in jail – under present law – and a sentence of up to seven years in jail under the proposed change. Fines could also double to $4,000.

Chandley and Beaudoin say that the change in penalties is necessary to deal with a growing threat on New Hampshire’s roads.

“We must work together to put really sharp teeth into the penalties for causing serious bodily injury and sharpen the public’s awareness of how serious distracted driving has become,” Beaudoin argued Tuesday.

But one senator on the committee, Franklin Republican Harold French, said while he sympathized with Beaudoin’s case, he opposed raising mandatory minimum charges for driver offenses. French contended there are better ways to improve driver education than jail time.

“How long should we put a man away for reaching for their phone – do we want to fill our prisons with people who reached for their cell phones for up to seven years?” he said. “I question that.”

The five-senator committee will vote on a recommendation on the bill in coming weeks.


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