First Island driver cited for texting while driving

Edgartown police cited a local driver for texting while driving on October 9, the first citation issued on the Island since a law that bans the practice took effect October 1.

An Edgartown District Court judge fined the driver, Mauricio Decarvalho, 30, of Oak Bluffs, $100, when he appeared in court October 12.

The traffic stop led to his arrest on another charge, driving without a license. The court ordered that charge dismissed when Mr. deDecarvalho pays $100 in court costs and completes eight hours of community service.

Special police officer Nicholas Phelps was on routine patrol when he saw Mr. Decarvalho stopped at a stop sign on Cooke Street. “The operator of this vehicle,” officer Phelps wrote in his report, “was using his cell phone in what appeared to be text messaging. Mauricio had his head down facing the phone, and was typing on the keypad of his phone using both hands. He did this during the entire duration of when my vehicle passed his stopped vehicle, approximately three seconds.”

After turning the cruiser around, officer Phelps stopped the brown Ford pick-up truck on Pease Point Way, where Mr. Decarvalho admitted he was texting his boss, according to the report.

Mr. Decarvalho could not produce a valid Massachusetts driver’s license but said he had a Florida license at his house. He told the officer he did not have a social security number. “Using his date of birth and his name,” the officer wrote, “I was able to run his license. No matching record was found.”

Officer Phelps arrested Mr. Decarvalho and contacted the vehicle’s registered owner, Eduardo Da Silva, who agreed to pick up the vehicle.

Mr. Decarvalho was booked at the Dukes County jail.

According to the report, a query was sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to check his status as a citizen. The results came back as no matching record, rendering his status as illegal,” Mr. Phelps wrote.

According to the sheriff’s department, ICE has not issued a detainee order for Mr. Decarvalho under which he would have been detained for federal authorities. He was arraigned and released.

New law

According to the law “no operator of a motor vehicle shall use a mobile telephone, or any handheld device capable of accessing the Internet, to manually compose, send, or read an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle.”

The law calls for a $100 fine for the first offense, $250 for a second offense, and $500 for a third offense. It is not a surchargeable violation. Insurance companies cannot penalize a driver’s safety record or change insurance rates based on a texting-while-driving citation.

Edgartown police chief Tony Bettencourt said his officers have discussed enforcement of the new law, including the difficulty of identifying drivers who are texting. He said in this case it was a blatant example of texting while driving, and the defendant admitted it to the police officer. He said it might be more difficult to differentiate between a driver who is texting, or one who is simply looking for a phone number in their phone contact list. “It’s tough to prove, it’s not tough to make the traffic stop,” Chief Bettencourt said. “It’s not going to be easy for us.”

In the case of a serious accident where texting played a role, Mr. Bettencourt said police or prosecutors could get mobile phone records as supporting evidence. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see that at some point.”

In Tisbury, police chief Dan Hanavan said texting while driving adds one more violation to the list of reasons a police officer could make a traffic stop. “We keep our eyes open,” chief Hanavan said. “Some people do it, and I think it takes your attention off the road. If they’re observed texting, they’re going to get cited for it.”