Editorial: New state law targets distracted driving

  • In this file photo, a driver talks on a cell phone while driving through the Financial District of Boston. Massachusetts drivers would no longer be able to use hand-held cellphones under a new law signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday. AP FILE PHOTO/CHARLES KRUPA

Published: 11/29/2019 7:39:01 AM

Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on
the road. And stay off that phone you have in your
hand.

That’s always been good advice since cell phones changed the way we communicate. But now it’s the law.

On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation banning drivers from using handheld phones while they are on the road.

With Baker’s signature, Massachusetts is the 16th state and the last in New England to formally take this action against distracted driving.

We say it was long overdue.

How many times have we been behind a vehicle that is swerving or moving way below the speed limit? Typically, we discover somebody is yakking away on their phone, or worse texting and emailing. They seem oblivious to what’s going on around them, and that’s the problem.

Perhaps these drivers believe they can handle being multi-taskers on the road. Sadly, for those who have gotten into accidents, that’s not true.

“When a driver on an electronic device hits something or someone, that’s not an accident, it’s a crash that was avoidable,” Baker said Monday.

As evidence, Baker was joined by those who survived crashes caused by distracted driving and family members of those who died under those circumstances.

The bill passed easily in the Massachusetts House and Senate before it reached Baker.

The new law takes effect Feb. 23 and through March, drivers will only get warnings. After that, however, drivers will face fines of $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second, and $500 after that. Classes will be mandatory for repeat offenders.

And moving violations will mean an increase in the driver’s vehicle insurance.

To address concerns that drivers of a certain race could be targeted, police will have to collect data on the drivers they ticket about their age, race and gender to determine whether an officer did so with prejudice. If so, that officer will require certain training to address their bias.

Massachusetts passed a law in 2010 that banned texting while driving, but it simply didn’t go far enough.

Under the new law, a driver can only talk on a cell phone if the car is equipped via Bluetooth to handle it. Viewing a navigation system on the dashboard or console is permissible. And there is a provision in the law for emergencies.

Don’t have a newer car equipped that can handle calls this way? Then, find a safe place off the road and away from traffic to make or answer that call — or communicate via text or email.

Better yet, let an incoming call go to voice mail and return it later.

Need to make a call? It can wait.

We’ve become a culture so attached to our phones that it distracts us from what is happening about us, whether it’s at a public or private gathering. And it certainly applies to being behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

Road safety is our concern. And this law makes absolute sense.




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