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Texting ban broadsides drivers

Date: 7/6/2010

Governor Patrick endorses a new bill to make roads safer

July 5, 2010

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

GREATER SPRINGFIELD -- Think you can answer your latest text message while driving in Massachusetts? Sure you can now, but in less than three months, that text might cost you your license or hundreds in fines per new legislation approved by Gov. Deval Patrick on July 2.

The Safe Driving Bill, proposed by Chicopee State Rep. Joseph Wagner, prohibits all motorists from text messaging while driving and outlaws junior operators from using their cell phones altogether.

When asked about Patrick's position on the bill, Heather Johnson, spokesperson for the governor, said, "The Administration is pleased that the House and Senate have come to an agreement and that this important bill is moving forward. The governor has been strongly supportive of efforts to make our roads safer."

Westfield State Rep. Donald Humason Jr., member of the Safe Driving Conference Committee, called the legislation "an important start" in the effort to achieve safer roadways.

The committee "couldn't come to a consensus" on the issue of talking while driving, he added.

"Technology is moving along so quickly it will simply outpace legislation if [the bill] required a hands-free device [for all cellular usage while driving]," Humason said.

Many of today's cars come off the line with built-in voice-activated call features, omitting the need for additional hands-free devices, he explained.

The bill bans all drivers, even law enforcement officers, from text messaging except in the event of an emergency. If caught, violators will face a $100 fine for the first offence, $250 for the second and $500 for each subsequent offence.

Junior operators who are caught using mobile devices will lose their license or learner's permit for 60 days, receive a $100 fine and be required to complete a attitudinal course. The second offence will carry a $250 fine and 180-day suspension. Subsequent violations will suspend the junior operator's license for one year and carry a $500 fine.

Violations for all drivers will also be considered moving violations subject to an insurance surcharge.

When asked how enforceable this law will be in real time, Douglas Mellis, chief of the East Longmeadow Police Department, said, "Without us physically seeing the person texting it's going to be difficult. They could be holding a cup of coffee in their hand. It would be difficult [to ticket] unless a person admits it. [Enforcement] will be challenging on our part."

Humason echoed the chief's sentiments. "Every driver, legislator and law enforcement officer wants the roads to be as safe as we can make them, but if people are not willing to follow [the law], they'll get away with it occasionally but you'll think twice," he said.

The bill also includes new requirements for vehicle operators older than 75 and has new provisions for "historically bad drivers."

The legislation will officially take effect in late September.