Massachusetts bill is intended to curb drivers' cell-phone use

| 6/19/2006

An effort before Massachusetts lawmakers would require all drivers to keep their hands off the phone and teens would face even stricter rules.

The Legislature's Transportation Committee recently voted 7-2 to advance the bill. Ten panel members did not cast a vote. The measure has been sent to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill – H4819 – would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving in the state. Driving and talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device would still be permitted.

Drivers under age 18, however, would be prohibited from using any cell phone – whether hand-held or hands-free – while behind the wheel.

Adult drivers would face up to a $250 fine for failure to follow the rule. Repeat offenders would be fined up to $500. Teens would be subject to as much as a $100 fine and loss of driving privileges for up to one year.

Emergency calls would be exempted.

Currently, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. No state prohibits hands-free usage.

The Massachusetts bill comes as more studies show hands-free and hand-held phones are equally distracting.

A recent Insurance Institute of Highway Safety study indicated that drivers using phones were four times as likely to be in crashes serious enough to injure themselves. Researchers found that the increased crash risk was consistent for those using either hand-held or hands-free phones.