Senator Humason Votes to Pass Distracted Driving Bill

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Boston --- On Thursday June 6, 2019, Senator Donald F. Humason Jr. (R- 2nd Hampden and Hampshire) voted to pass a bill that would prohibit the use of handheld mobile devices while driving.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously, 40-0.

“As I go about my district I hear from drivers of all ages, and their ‘near miss’ stories; everybody has one,” said Senator Humason to his colleagues on the Senate floor. “It’s become far more dangerous (to drive).”

“At times I’ve been conflicted in the past, but personal experience, observations, and anecdotes from thousands of my constituents have led me to this point where I believe that this bill has to pass.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving accounted for 3,450 deaths in 2016. In the prior year, an estimated 400,000 people suffered from injuries because of distraction-affected crashes.

On the floor of the Senate Humason recounted how he had been the victim of a distracted-driving crash one year ago that left him with chronic pain in his knees. The driver who rear-ended Humason on the MassPike admitted to State Police that he had been looking down at his cellphone GPS instead of watching traffic.

In 2010, the legislature banned texting while driving but did not ban the use of handheld devices for talking or other purposes. The 2010 law banned handheld use for 16 and 17-year olds.

“I was a member of the Transportation Committee in 2010 and was the Republican House member of the Conference Committee that banned texting while driving,” Humason said. “But it didn’t work like we hoped.”

The law has been difficult to enforce and hands-free technology has improved significantly since the passage of the 2010 law.

This bill, which builds upon the 2010 law, would ban drivers from holding and using a cell phone while driving. Drivers, however, can make a single tap or swipe to activate or accept a hands-free call or to use a navigation device.

The bill also makes exceptions for phone calls in emergency purposes, such as situations where the safety of the driver, passenger or a pedestrian is at risk or first responder intervention is necessary.

Under the bill, an initial violation results in a $100 fine and second time offense is a $250 fine, while subsequent offenses carry a $500 fine. In addition to fines, a driver who commits a second or subsequent offense is required to complete an educational program on driving behavior selected by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles.

The bill also considers concerns that enforcement of the hands-free ban could lead to disparate impacts, such as racial profiling, in certain communities.

It requires law enforcement to document stops and submit aggregate data, including race and ethnicity, to the Department of Public Safety for the production of annual reports to the Legislature and the public.

The Senate and the House will now appoint a Conference Committee that will work to reconcile the 2 versions of the bills relative to distracted driving prevention.

 

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Donald Humason