Massachusetts eyes cell phone restriction

| 8/7/2003

A Massachusetts House panel is reviewing legislation that would require drivers to keep their hands off cell phones.

H3919, which would prohibit hand-held cell phone use while driving, is now before the House Ways and Means Committee. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device would still be permitted.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Peter Koutoujian, D-Newton, also would ban the use of any cell phone by drivers under the age of 18.

The young driver provision comes on the heels of a National Transportation Safety Board report released in June that recommended novice drivers be prohibited from using cell phones while on the road.

The safety board says that young drivers account for only 7 percent of the driving population but are involved in 15 percent of fatal accidents. Distracted drivers take 1.5 seconds longer to respond to hazards, the agency says.

“Learning how to drive and getting comfortable in traffic requires all the concentration a novice driver can muster,” NTSB Chairwoman Ellen Engleman said in a recent statement. “Adding a distracting element like a cell phone is placing too many demands on a young driver’s skills.”

Penalties on drivers over 18 include a $250 fine for a first offense and $500 for a second offense, the Milford Daily News reported. Anyone under 18 who uses a cell phone would lose his or her license and be fined up to $100.

Currently, New York has the only statewide law restricting cell phone use in vehicles. According to the Boston Globe, only Maine and New Jersey have enacted legislation banning young drivers from using cell phones, while the 48 other states have considered similar legislation.