Supporters of a bill banning drivers from using handheld cell phones told lawmakers Wednesday it would make it easier to enforce the state’s texting while driving ban.
The Legislature’s Transportation Committee supported a handheld phone ban during the last legislative session, but the proposal died before making it to a vote in the full House or Senate. Lawmakers are again considering several bills, including one outlawing handheld cell phones while driving in school zones.
Rep. Denise Provost, a Somerville Democrat, said the existing texting ban is extremely difficult for police to enforce because drivers are still allowed to use their cell phones. Police who see someone punching keys on their phone cannot discern if the driver is texting, dialing a number, or typing on the Internet.
“As a pedestrian, I see a lot of bad driving that would probably improve if people would put down their cell phones and pay attention to the road,” Provost said.
Rep. Cory Atkins, a Concord Democrat, said if people are not holding the phone, “you eliminate the guessing by public safety officials who have to decide are they texting or are they dialing?”
Both Transportation Committee chairs said Wednesday they support a ban on handheld phones while driving.
“The committee has been clear in favor of this kind of limitation in the past, and we’ll see where we go,” committee co-chair Rep. William Straus (D-Mattapoisett) said during the hearing.
Committee Co-chair Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) said phone technology has advanced so much there is no need for someone to hold the device to use it.
“It makes sense we go to hands-free use in cars,” McGee told the News Service.
September marks the third anniversary of the state law banning texting while driving.
The law bans the act of sending or receiving mobile phone text messages while operating a vehicle, and also prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a mobile phone in any way while operating a motor vehicle. Police are allowed to pull over drivers if they suspect them of texting, without needing another suspected offense.
After its passage, some police officials said the law was going to be difficult to enforce since it allows adult drivers to type in numbers to make a phone call. If the Legislature had banned the use of all handheld devices, police officials said at the time, enforcement would have been easier.
When he signed the legislation in July of 2010, Gov. Deval Patrick called it “a step in the right direction,” and added he thought a full debate on whether to restrict all handheld cell phones should be the next step.
Atkins, who said she perennially testifies in favor of banning handheld cell phone use, acknowledged studies that point to distracted driving stemming from many sources, including children in the car. She argued there are levels of distraction.
“When I drive by people and they are in there reading away, that is a scary sight,” Atkins said.
Atkins, who is advocating for legislation she filed (H 3005), said she worries about young drivers who are more adept at using cell phones, “and they are on it all the time. And that really troubles me.”
In her years of driving, Atkins said, she has avoided accidents because she was taught to drive by a World War II history teacher who insisted “your hands are supposed to be at 10 and 2.” Atkins said she was able to turn the wheel fast during several dangerous situations because her hands were in the right position.
Atkins asked Transportation Committee members to move the proposal forward again. Rep. Joseph Wagner (D-Chicopee) filed similar legislation (H 3169) requiring hands-free mobile telephones while driving. Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) also filed a bill (S 1647) relative to hands-free cell phone devices, as did Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford) to prohibit mobile telephones while operating a motor vehicle (S 1682).
If lawmakers are hesitant to institute a total ban, Provost suggested her colleagues should push the idea forward incrementally by backing the ban on handheld phones while driving in school zones (H 3125). Another bill (H 3123), filed by Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, a Republican from Attleboro, would also prohibit cell phone use in school zones.
“At least consider prohibiting the use of cell phones in school zones where we have extremely vulnerable individuals,” Provost said.
Read more: http://www.wickedlocal.com/weymouth/newsnow/x986308876/State-House-News-Device-ban-proponents-say-drivers-need-to-go-hands-free#ixzz2XQH65s65
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