Governor Charlie Baker proposed a bill yesterday that will require all cell phone use while driving to be hands free.
“Keeping the Commonwealth’s networks of roads as safe as possible for everyone using them is one of our administration’s top public safety priorities,” Baker said in a press release.
“This bill includes common sense proposals to substantially reduce distracted driving, stiffen penalties associated with operating under the influence, improve safety requirements for certain trucks, and to begin establishing a regulatory framework for new forms of transportation.”
The proposed bill says that phones will be required to be in hands-free mode and cannot be touched “except to perform a single tap or swipe to activate, deactivate, or initiate hands-free mode.” Texting and calling will be permitted as long as the driver uses voice command.
“I know as Boston Police Commissioner I supported the ban in Boston and I still do,” Boston College Chief of Police Bill Evans said in an email. “[There are] too many distractions with cell phones by both the driver and pedestrians. The more we can do to have drivers pay attention to the road the better.”
Evans served as the Boston Police Commissioner from 2014 to 2018. He said that there have been too many pedestrian accidents in the city and the country.
“Anything we can do such as eliminating hand-held phones to make our roads safer is a good thing for our students at BC who cross some busy roadways with trolly cars in the mix,” Evans said.
The long-anticipated bill, if passed, will join Massachusetts with all of its neighboring states which have already passed similar legislation. Sixteen states in the country ban hand-held phone use while driving, and 47 have banned text messaging for drivers.
The bill, “An Act Relative to Improving Safety on the Roads of the Commonwealth,” also proposes that police be allowed to pull drivers over for not wearing a seatbelt. As the law currently stands, police can only issue a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt if the driver has already been pulled over for another offense.
This bill has been resisted in previous years because of the fear that racial profiling could play a role.
Byron Rushing, who served in the House of Representatives from 1983 to 2019, opposed previous versions of the bill because he said they could not ensure that racial minorities would not be targeted. He wanted any bill that passed to also have a section that states all traffic stops should be “logged and analyzed for racial bias,” according to a Boston Globe article from May of last year.
The bill also proposes that electric scooters be categorized with bikes. Scooters are not currently in any category of vehicles. Under the proposal, scooter users would follow the same regulations as cyclists—if passed, they will be required to wear a helmet until age 16, yield to people walking, and not block any traffic on the road or sidewalk while parked.
The use of an ignition interlock device—which requires drivers to blow into a breathalyzer before being able to turn on the vehicle—would be required for all first-time offenders applying for a hardship licence. It would also clarify the ability of the Registry of Motor Vehicles to penalize anyone who attempts to tamper with the device or drink after driving.
Other sections state that fines would be doubled in work zone areas where speed limits are temporarily lowered while workers are present and trucks over 10,000 pounds would be required to have side guards, convex mirrors, and cross-over mirrors after Jan. 1 of next year.
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