Massachusetts House approves phoning, texting ban while driving

| 1/28/2008

To improve safety on Massachusetts roadways, the state’s House approved a bill that would prohibit drivers in the state from talking on hand-held cell phones and text messaging while driving.

House lawmakers voted 107-47 on Wednesday, Jan. 23, to advance a bill to the Senate that would make it a primary offense for drivers to use hand-held mobile devices for talking or texting while behind the wheel. The distinction would allow law enforcement to pull over drivers without another reason.

Talking on a phone equipped with a hands-free accessory would still be permitted. Drivers still could use their hands to dial and hang up the phone, as long as they use an earpiece or speakerphone during their calls.

Drivers older than 18 found in violation would face $100 fines. Repeat offenders would face $250 fines, and subsequent violations could result in $500 fines.

New teen drivers with junior operator licenses also would be prohibited from using hands-free devices. Young drivers found in violation would face fines and the suspension of their licenses.

A provision added to the bill on the House floor would allow for a one-time $600 insurance surcharge for all violators on a first offense.

Attempts to curb the practice of using the devices while driving have picked up steam following the release of a Nationwide Mutual Insurance 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 in their bans “texting” while driving.

The Massachusetts bill – H4477 – is awaiting assignment to committee in the Senate.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Massachusetts in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor