British Driver Gets 21 Month Prison Sentence for Texting While Driving

The New York Times reports that Phillipa Curtis, 22, cried as she received her 21-month jail sentence for killing another young woman in an auto accident. Curtis ran into the back of Victoria McBryde’s car, which was broken down on the side of the road. The collision killed McBryde, 24, instantly.

Curtis did not have any alcohol in her system. However, her phone showed that she had exchanged nearly two dozen text messages in the hour before the crash. The last incoming text message, which was never opened, was received just seconds before the crash.

The evidence on her phone landed Curtis in jail. The British government considers texting as a serious aggravated factor in “death by driving.” The laws generally recommend four to seven years in prison. The sentence has sparked debate.

Bill Sykes, the police officer in charge of the investigation, said, “She came across as a lovely girl, and I’m sure it wasn’t a nice feeling for the judge to send someone like this to prison - but someone is dead because of a text message.”

McBryde’s mother called the 21-month sentence “unduly lenient.” But not everyone agreed. Gemma Pancoust, cousin of the McBryde, said, “I think Phillipa’s sentence was long enough, as she seemed like such a normal girl. Until Tory’s death I texted while driving, as have most people. I don’t think she realized the danger she was causing.”

In fact, records show that the victim had sent a text message while driving her car shortly before it broke down on the side of the road. Part of McBryde’s vehicle extended into the roadway because there was no shoulder where it broke down. The court case revolved around evidence that Curtis made no effort to brake or swerve to avoid the car. Police demonstrated that it should have been visible from 300 yards back on the highway.

“How could she not see it, given that the night was clear and the car’s lights were on? She was clearly distracted,” said Sykes.

Curtis’ lawyer proved that Curtis had not been sending a text in the moments before the crash. The prosecution argued that, in light of the text conversation, the new message which had arrived seconds before the crash had likely distracted her. This message was never opened, but prosecutors said she was unable to resist trying to do so.

“Since she had read all messages before, she was probably looking to read this one, too,” Sykes said.

Britain has cracked down on texting while driving. Curtis was found guilty and sent to jail even though she was not texting at the time of the accident because the laws regard “reading or composing text messages over a period of time” as a “gross avoidable distraction.” Such behavior falls into the same category as driving under the influence or road racing.

Have you been seriously injured by a distracted driver, or have you lost a loved one in an auto accident? If so, contact an experienced Georgia car wreck lawyer immediately. Call MLN Law at 404-531-9700 to schedule a free consultation.