Massachusetts lawmakers mull cell phone restrictions for drivers

| 9/25/2007

Multiple efforts in the Massachusetts statehouse are intended to improve safety on roadways by limiting the use of cell phones by drivers.

Among nearly a dozen bills put before lawmakers restricting cell phone use are measures that would prohibit drivers in the state from talking on hand-held cell phones while at the wheel. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” accessory would still be permitted. Others would prohibit the use of any mobile device by drivers under 18.

A bill offered by Rep. Joseph Wagner, D-Chicopee, would do both.

Wagner’s bill would fine violators $250 for the first offense. Subsequent offense could result in $500 fines. Emergency calls would be exempted.

Other bills would take young drivers’ licenses away for a year if caught driving while chatting.

Restricting cell phone use has drawn a lot of debate this year in the Legislature. The Joint Transportation Committee is expected to roll several bills into a single piece of legislation that will be voted on this session, The Boston Globe reported.

Supporters of the legislative efforts point to figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency contends that “distractions,” such as cell phones, contribute to as many as 30 percent of all traffic wrecks.

However, more studies show that hands-free and hand-held phones are equally distracting. Opponents of cell phone restrictions also 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, about 15 states forbid young drivers to use phones while behind the wheel. Connecticut, New York and New Jersey are the only states that have bans on all drivers from using hand-held phones. California and Washington are slated to begin enforcement of their own law in 2008.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Massachusetts in 2007, click here.