Massachusetts lawmakers target driver distractions

| 1/14/2008

To improve safety on Massachusetts roadways, multiple efforts likely to come up for consideration in the statehouse would prohibit drivers in the state from talking on cell phones and text messaging while driving.

One bill would outlaw the use of hand-held cell phones while behind the wheel. Talking on a phone equipped with a hands-free accessory would still be permitted.

Another effort would apply the restriction to both hand-held and hands-free devices. A separate measure would focus solely on text messaging while driving.

People would be prohibited from operating a motor vehicle while reading, typing or sending text messages on an electronic wireless device, such as a BlackBerry.

Attempts to curb the practice of using the devices while driving have picked up steam following the release of a Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. survey that found one in five drivers texting while driving. That number nearly doubles for drivers aged 18 to 27.

Opponents of cell phone restrictions say that talking on cell phones is no more distracting than eating, drinking or changing radio stations while driving. Others say lawmakers shouldn’t be restricting people in their vehicles.

Currently, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. In July, California and Washington are slated to implement their own rules on cell phones.

Only New Jersey and Washington have included texting while driving in their bans.

The legislation in Massachusetts can be considered during the regular session that started Jan. 2.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Massachusetts, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor