Thursday, November 21, 2019

Massachusetts Legislature Passes Distracted Driving Legislation

On Wednesday (Nov 20), Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka, along with their colleagues in the House and Senate, passed legislation to ban drivers from using hand-held electronic devices in vehicles unless they are in hands-free mode.

“There are too many heartbreaking stories of those who lost loved ones to distracted driving, and so I’m proud the Legislature has taken action to prevent future tragedies,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). "This bill strikes a balance between increased enforcement and increased transparency, requiring more demographic data to be released to the public than ever before so that we can ensure this law is being enforced equitably across the Commonwealth. I'd like to thank Senator Boncore, Senator Brownsberger and all the conferees for their hard work to bring this final bill to fruition."

“We’re proud to have worked with our colleagues in the Senate to make Massachusetts roads safer and save lives by moving this policy forward,” said House Speaker DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I want to thank Chair Straus for his leadership on this issue and Leader Wagner, Chair Michlewitz and my colleagues in the House who worked so diligently to advance this legislation. Thank you also to our partners in the Senate for their work to advance these policies.”

“This bill will improve the safety of our streets and promote transparency in law enforcement,” said Senator Joe Boncore (D-Winthrop), Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation. “Distracted driving is an epidemic, and this bill will save lives. Further, by updating our data collection laws, we will better understand and improve our communities’ interactions with public safety officials.”

“Today’s final bill is a major public safety improvement for the residents of Massachusetts,” said Rep. Bill Straus (D-Mattapoisett), Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation. “Distracted driving has caused too many unnecessary tragedies and I am pleased that our state will now join the ranks of other states who have adopted a ban on holding a phone while driving.”

The bill defines hands-free mode as one that engages in voice communication with and receiving audio without touching, holding or otherwise manually manipulating a mobile electronic device. Law enforcement officials will issue warnings to drivers for first offenses of the new law until March 31, 2020.

Additionally, this legislation improves transparency in public safety by granting expanded access to traffic stop data. It has been 15 years since the last public report on traffic stop data; under this bill the state will be required to publish and analyze the data annually. Expanding access to this information improves transparency and improves public safety outcomes.

The bill will also:

• Allow for drivers to use mapping or navigation devices if they are affixed to the windshield, dashboard or central console or integrated into the vehicle and only involve a tap or a swipe;
• Exempt use of electronics in the case of an emergency and for first responders if they are using the devices as part of their duties;
• Penalize drivers with $100 fine for the first offence, $250 fine and safety course for the second offence and $500 fine and surcharge for third and subsequent offences;
• Expand data collection of identifying characteristics including age, race and gender and location when police issue a uniform citation;
• Hold law enforcement agencies accountable, if data suggests those jurisdictions may be engaging in racial profiling, by requiring them to collect data on all traffic stops for a one-year period and provide implicit bias training;
• Require the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPPS) to publish data online annually
• Mandate EOPSS to contract with a research institution to conduct an annual analysis of the data collected.
• Direct the EOPSS Secretary to hold three public hearings across the Commonwealth annually to present the findings of the annual report and analysis and field public testimony; and
• Create a public awareness campaign informing and educating drivers on the dangers of using technological devices while driving.

“This new law will mean behavior changes for most of us, but I believe that most of us are ready to make the changes,” said Senate President Pro Tempore William N. Brownsberger (D-Belmont). “It is time we all start driving more safely by renouncing cell phone contact.”

“The hands-free legislation enacted today will save lives and make the Commonwealth’s roads safer while allowing for greater enforcement of the state’s ban on texting while driving, which represents the worst form of distracted driving,” said Assistant Majority Leader Representative Joseph F. Wagner (D-Chicopee).

The bill now goes to the governor.

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