Drivers may claim they are not texting behind the wheel. But Massachusetts State Police say that at least 440 of them were doing just that in June.
State Police cited these drivers over three weeks in the Merrimack Valley, part of a federally funded enforcement grant involving 12 communities. Another 509 drivers were ticketed for impeded operation, after being caught engaged in distractions such as reading and grooming while driving.
The numbers are notable as today marks three years since the Safe Driving Law took effect in Massachusetts, placing new restrictions on drivers under 18 years old and banning all drivers from texting while driving. Three years later, how well are you complying with the law?
The law bans texting by drivers, including reading, writing or sending messages. This includes text messages, e-mails and messages sent through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Drivers cannot text while driving or sitting at red lights, intersections or on other public ways. Texting while driving is a primary offense, meaning police can pull drivers over when they suspect the behavior.
The law also covers more than cell phones. It bans communicating through any device while you are driving, including tablet computers and laptops.
Fines for Texting While Driving in Massachusetts
Drivers are permitted to talk on cell phones in Massachusetts. But operators under 18 years old are banned from all cell phone use, a measure passed as part of the Safe Driving Law.
One area of confusion with the texting while driving ban has been the use of GPS, especially GPS apps in smartphones. The Registry of Motor Vehicles reported back in 2010 that such use was not a violation of the law, though State Police said they would use discretion with GPS units and could cite drivers for “unsafe operation.”
Across the country, 41 states ban texting while driving. Fines in Massachusetts drivers are $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second and $500 for third and all subsequent acts. When a driver causes serious injury or death as a result of texting, they can also face criminal charges.
One Massachusetts newspaper has called for more. In today’s edition, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette noted that drivers who violate the law do not face any impact on their license or auto insurance rates and called on the Legislature to strengthen laws.
“To create a true deterrent, lawmakers must strengthen the penalties, particularly for second and subsequent offenses,” the Telegram & Gazette wrote.
Maybe the Legislature will review the law. Enforcement will continue. State Police have launched Phase 2 of their “Text with one hand, ticket in the other,” campaign in the Lowell and Merrimack Valley area.
But the discussion goes beyond a $100 ticket to safety and responsibility on the road. Any cell phone use that takes a driver’s attention off the road is negligent and can cause a car accident resulting in serious injuries or death. So we ask again. Have you complied with the law? Are there are additional steps you could take?
If you have any doubts about safety, or the terrible effects three seconds of inattention might bring, please watch this video: “From One Second To The Next,” by Werner Herzog. It is part of AT&T’s It Can Wait campaign.
Texting While Driving Crackdown Nets 440, Lowell Sun.
Tougher penalties needed, Worcester Telegram & Gazette.