The Senate legislation fining Massachusetts drivers for talking on a cellphone without a hands-free device constitutes another step toward a necessary law. Ultimately, of course, driver safety is up to drivers.
Accident statistics attest to the dangers of driving while holding a cellphone to one's ear, as did the testimony on Beacon Hill of the family members of victims. The Senate legislation calls for hefty fines for violators up to $500 for a third and subsequent offense and requires taking a distracted-driving class with each offense. The House has passed a similar ban and Governor Baker has indicated his willingness to sign off on the legislation.
The law would have the dual benefit of helping law enforcement officers who currently must attempt to make the difficult distinction between a driver who is talking on a cellphone, which is now legal, and texting, which was made illegal. When both are illegal, drivers not using hand-held devices can be pulled over and subjected to fines.
While AAA has endorsed the legislation, Mary Maguire, director of public and legislative affairs for AAA Northeast, cautioned lawmakers at a hearing on the Senate bill Thursday that "hands-free is not risk-free." The phone conversation itself, observed Ms. Maguire, is a "potent distraction" for the driver.
Cars and trucks today are being made safer and "smarter," but they are also equipped with increasing number of distracting high-tech devices, many of them entertainment related. It is up to drivers to limit those distractions, which means using a cellphone, even with a hand-held device in ideally the near future, only when absolutely necessary.
State and federal laws can and should be passed to make the roads safer, but they will only work if drivers not only obey the laws but drive responsibly and courteously regardless of the laws they are required to follow. Better driving will benefit everyone on our roadways.