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Legislature Sends Safe Driving Bill to Governor
June 25, 2010

Bans Texting for drivers and public transportation operators;
Bans cell phone use for minors
 
BOSTON – The Legislature on Friday finalized a bill that bans texting while driving, making it a primary offense, and takes additional steps to improve safety for all drivers and public transportation passengers while also cracking down on historically bad motor vehicle operators.
 
“Everyone knows cell phones are a distraction and that texting while driving is especially dangerous,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “This bill will make the roads of the Commonwealth safer and protect motorists, passengers and the public as a whole with new safety regulations and a ban on texting. I hope this legislation will dissuade people from putting themselves and others at risk.”
 
“With this bill the legislature has taken strong action to keep our roads safe,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said. “Not only have we banned texting while driving and imposed strict penalties for violators, but we have also instituted needed measures to keep impaired drivers off the road. This bill will help keep our residents safe by requiring our drivers – including public transportation operators and junior operators – to focus on the task of driving safely.”
 
“This bill sends a clear message to all drivers, regardless of age, that when behind the wheel, your primary focus should be driving,” said Senator Steven A. Baddour (D-Methuen), Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation. “This is a major step forward to ensure the continued safety of the motoring public.” 
 
“Today we have made Massachusetts a leader in the nation regarding laws relating to safe driving,” said Rep. Joseph F. Wagner (D-Chicopee) House Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation. “A ban on texting while driving, a zero-tolerance ban on cell phone use by junior operators, and a new regulatory process recognizing cognitive and functional impairments will protect the public on the roads of the Commonwealth.”
 
The bill prohibits all drivers from texting while driving and punishes violators with increasing fines of $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second, and $500 for third and subsequent offenses.
 
While texting would not be considered a moving violation subject to an insurance surcharge, the bill does make it a primary offense which means law enforcement has the authority to pull someone over specifically for the act of texting while driving. Additionally, a penalty up to $200 or two years in jail, or both, would apply to anyone who causes an accident while texting and driving.
 
The bill further enhances public safety by prohibiting junior operators – anyone under 18 – from using any cell phone or mobile device for any reason, hand-held or hands-free, while driving. Violators would have their licenses or permits suspended for 60 days and pay a $100 fine for the first offense. Suspensions and fines would increase to 180 days and $250 for the second offense, and one year and $500 for the third and subsequent offenses.
 
Currently, 28 states and the District of Columbia ban all cell phone use by junior operators.
 
Operators of public transportation vehicles – including the MBTA, school buses and ferries – are banned from using any cell phone or electronic mobile device under the bill. The exception would be in the case of an emergency. Violations are punishable by a $500 fine.
 
The bill also ensures the abilities of drivers 75 and older by requiring them to renew their licenses in-person and also complete a vision test every five years. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the only policy to result n fewer fatal crashes was requiring in-person renewals.
 
Finally, the bill targets historically bad drivers by requiring anyone with three surcharged moving violations within two years to take a driver re-training course or have their license suspended indefinitely until completing the course. Current law is five incidents in three years.
 
Additional provisions in the bill:
 
· Authorizes health care providers and law enforcement to notify the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) of any driver who may not be able to safely operate a vehicle;
 
  • Protects from civil liability those police officers and healthcare providers who do notify the RMV that a driver may not be able to safely operate a motor vehicle, and also provides immunity from liability for a failure to report;
 
  • Requires the RMV to develop regulations to help identify cognitive and functional impairments to the safe operation of a motor vehicle;
 
  • Ensures that RMV will not impose additional fees for transactions conducted in person or over the telephone in excess of fees charged for website transactions; and
 
  • Requires the RMV to establish a public awareness campaign to educate all drivers on the dangers of distracted driving.
 
The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.
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