Temple woman injured in distracted driving crash advocates for tougher laws

  • Lisa Beaudoin of Temple is recovering from serious injuries after a motor vehicle crash on Dec. 19.

  • Lisa Beaudoin of Temple is now able to get around with the use of a walker, several months after a car accident which broke multiple bones and required multiple surgeries. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/29/2019 9:20:34 PM

Usually an advocate for rights for people with disabilities, Temple’s Lisa Beaudoin has turned her sights on a different issue: Distracted driving.

It’s an issue that’s become relevant for Beaudoin, who was badly injured during a crash in Amherst in December in which the other driver was distracted. Nearly seven months after the crash, she is still recovering.

Beaudoin, who is the executive director for ABLE New Hampshire, will be announcing a campaign to push for harsher penalties for distracted driving during a benefit concert Aug. 4 to raise donations to assist with her medical bills and recovery.

Organized by her sister, Tina Beaudoin, and members of local bands, the concert will feature the Tara Greenblatt Band, Folksoul Band, BabaRay and Willie J. Laws.

Beaudoin did not have medical insurance at the time of the crash, and funds raised will be put toward paying $650,000 in medical debt she incurred.

Beaudoin had severe injuries from the accident, including multiple broken bones. She had reached a point in her recovery in June where she was able to bear weight on both her legs and had begun to drive again when an accident during surgery on June 26 re-broke one of her tibias, extending her recovery time by another six to eight weeks.

Beaudoin said she’ll also use the event as a platform to launch a campaign to strengthen distracted driving laws, currently a misdemeanor crime.

New Hampshire has laws on the books preventing cell phone use and texting, as well as a more general reckless driving statute, but Beaudoin said the current rules don’t go far enough.

“Because of the relative newness of smartphones, the laws haven’t kept up with the data on how serious distracted driving has become,” Beaudoin said.

Beaudoin said she’s been in contact with several state lawmakers, including state Senator Shannon Chandley, who covers Senate District 11, which includes Amherst, Milford, Merrimack and Wilton.

“I absolutely support strengthening our distracted driving legislation,” Chandley said Monday. “I really think that right now the penalties are not strong enough. If we really believe you should not drive distracted, we need to put some teeth behind the law.”

Chandley said she is currently researching the issue and discussing it with various stakeholders in anticipation of introducing a bill during the fall session of the legislature. She said she does not know yet what form the bill will take, but said it’s an issue she thinks needs to be addressed.

“The risk is too great,” she said. “Evidence shows that folks driving while texting have a worse ability to respond than those who are driving under the influence.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 3,166 people killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

In 2017, there were 599 people who weren’t in the vehicle – such as pedestrians or bicyclists – killed in distraction-affected crashes.

The largest age group of fatal crashes with distracted drivers is teenagers, aged 15 to 19.

Mark Cournoyer, owner of Cournoyer Funeral Home and Cremation Center in Jaffrey, donates his time to speak to teenagers at local high schools about distracted driving, because he’s seen the impact of it in his own business, he said.

“We’ve had way too many funerals for folks who have died as a result of distracted driving,” Cournoyer said. “It’s needless.”

Cournoyer said the main message he tries to get across to first-time drivers is that driving distracted can have permanent consequences.

“When you choose to look at a phone, or drink a cup of coffee, or whatever it is, you’re making a conscious choice. You have to choose to accept the responsibility of anything bad that happens as a result of that choice,” Cournoyer said.

Beaudoin, who has herself run for the state legislature as recently as 2018, said she has been in contact with southern New Hampshire senators and state reps. to discuss putting forward a bill to increase penalties for distracted driving from a misdemeanor to a felony.

That may be an uphill battle, as during this legislative session, a bill which would have allowed a 15-day license suspension after a second texting-while-driving offense, and a 30-day suspension for subsequent offenses was vetoed by Governor Chris Sununu on July 12.

In his veto message, Sununu said New Hampshire already has among the most stringent distracted driving laws in the country, and said license suspensions would disproportionately impact lower-income residents by putting their ability to travel to their jobs in jeopardy.

“New Hampshire already gets it right as a national leader against distracted driving without putting lower-income drivers in danger of losing their livelihoods,” Sununu wrote in his veto message.

Chandley said despite the July veto, she believes there is a compromise that can be reached that Sununu will accept.

“I’m very willing to sit down in discussion and see how we can get to a point of ‘Yes’,” she said.

Cournoyer said rather than harsher penalties, tighter enforcement of those already in place and education of young drivers might be a more effective deterrent.

“There’s not enough presence out there to enforce the law no matter how strong or weak it is,” Cournoyer, who himself is a former part-time police officer, said. “The law is already very good, it’s the lack of presence out there.”

The benefit concert and chicken dinner will be held at Beaudoin’s home at 242 General Miller Highway in Temple on Sunday from 3-8 p.m. There is a suggested donation of $20. First responders are invited to a free dinner.


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