Massachusetts joined the growing number of states to pass a texting while driving ban after Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill into law late last week.
The bill, H. 4795 (http://www.mass.gov/legis/bills/house/186/ht04pdf/ht04795.pdf), states: “No operator of a motor vehicle shall use a mobile telephone, or any handheld device capable of accessing the Internet, to manually compose, send or read an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle.”
Penalties include a $100 fine for a first offense, a $250 fine for a second offense and a $500 fine for third or subsequent offense.
Cell phone use is also banned for operators of public transportation vehicles owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority; the Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority; Massachusetts Port Authority; and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
In a statement, John Murphy, vice president, Northeast region for the American Insurance Association (AIA), praised the new law but said he would have liked to have seen the mobile device ban for drivers under 18 apply to all drivers.
“AIA fully supports the general court’s recognition that novice drivers need to focus solely at the task at hand, and that the additional distraction of cell phones or other handheld devices makes for a dangerous combination,” he said. “This reasoning, however, should extend to the entire population, and not just new drivers.”
He concluded, “That said, we commend the legislature and the governor for approving this important piece of legislation, and will continue to work with lawmakers to ensure that drivers and passengers in Massachusetts safely reach their destinations.”
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 26 states along with the District of Columbia have passed texting while driving bans and have listed it as a primary offense, meaning drivers can be stopped specifically for texting while driving.
Governo Deval Patrick signed the bill at the Statehouse, while a Blackberry device took a photo. Devices like the Blackberry are targets of the law, which bans text messaging while driving.
The law will take effect in 90 days, in October. It also requires drivers 75 and older to have vision tests and to renew their licenses in person, rather than online.
The governor signed the bill in his office, surrounded by lawmakers, state officials and relatives whose loved ones have been killed in texting-related crashes. Bumper stickers placed around the bill read, "Drive Now, Text Later."
"We all have more to do than we have time to do it," Patrick said. "And the tools that are available to us today – texting, e-mail, Blackberries, cellphones -- are a part of how we get all that done. But using those tools must be done wisely. It must be done consistent with the safety of oneself and others. And this bill, by banning texting while driving, is a big step in the right direction."
The texting ban covers e-mailing, Internet searching, and other non-calling activity on a phone, laptop, or handheld electronic device by anyone operating a motor vehicle. It also applies to drivers not only while they are driving but also while waiting at traffic lights and stop signs. Texting — and talking for those under 18 — will still be allowed by a driver in an emergency or when the car is pulled over and parked.
Violations will result in a $100 fine, but the offense will not be considered a moving violation and will not result in an insurance surcharge.