Has your car become your mobile office? Do you start your day by making business calls on the way into the office? If you can answer yes to either of these questions, believe me, you are not alone.

While advancing technology has made it possible to multitask and be both mobile and connected, it has come at a cost. Driving while distracted makes you 23 times more likely to cause an accident. As if that statistic is not bad enough, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) reports that 16% of fatal crashes are due to distracted driving. This has led to over five thousand fatalities nationwide in the last year.

Massachusetts is working to change these statistics. Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito have recently introduced a bill, An Act Relative to Improving Safety on the Roads of the Commonwealth,” that would ban the use of handheld phones while driving.

What’s Included in the Legislation?

The “hands-free” provision of the bill is just a part of this sweeping road safety legislation. The proposed legislation will also include other aspects such as: seat belt enforcement, road worker safety, ignition interlock devices, truck side guards and electric scooters.

Baker said in a statement that, “This bill includes common sense proposals to substantially reduce distracted driving, stiffen penalties associated with operating under the influence, improve safety requirements for certain trucks and to begin establishing a regulatory framework for new forms of transportation.”

 

“Hands-Free” Driving

The part of the bill that will impact all drivers on the roads is the “hands-free” driving provision. If passed, the legislation would require that any device must be used in a “hands-free” mode. A driver would only be allowed to hold a device long enough to activate the hands-free mode. Someone would be allowed to talk, text, or otherwise use a phone using only voice commands. Currently, 16 states, including all other New England states, ban the use of handheld phones while driving.

Primary Seat Belt Enforcement

In addition to the “hands-free” component is the seat belt requirement. Currently, in Massachusetts, someone can be ticketed for not wearing a seatbelt only after they are pulled over for another offense. With the passage of this bill, failing to wear a seatbelt would become a primary offense. The change would allow the police to pull someone over solely for not wearing a seatbelt.

Road Worker Safety Guidelines

We have all seen cars speeding past work zones and endangering the lives of road workers. This bill would grant the Massachusetts Department of Transportation the authority to lower speed limits in construction zones. Fines would double in areas where workers are stationed.

Rules for Ignition Interlock Devices

After a driver has been convicted of operating under the influence and has had their license revoked in Massachusetts, they are permitted to apply for a hardship license. With this bill, anyone who applies for a hardship license must use an ignition interlock device for a minimum of six months.

Like a breathalyzer, an ignition interlock measures the amount of alcohol in a person’s system. If the device detects alcohol, then the interlock temporarily locks the vehicle’s ignition. The proposal also clarifies that the Registry of Motor Vehicles has the authority to impose penalties if drivers attempt to drive after consuming alcohol or tamper with a device.

Other Provisions

Other components of the bill would require all state-owned trucks to have certain types of safety equipment such as side guard rails. The legislation would also regulate electric scooters and electric bicycles in the same way as traditional bicycles are currently regulated.

The Massachusetts legislature will be taking up this measure in the months to come. It seems to have traction and the backing of some influential safety boards such as AAA, MADD, and the Safe Roads Alliance. To find out more about the dangers of distracted driving visit the research page of Virginia Tech Transportation Institute or the frightening statistics from the NHTSA. As always, drive safely and keep your eyes and mind on the road.