BOSTON >> Tom Brannelly wanted legislators to be able to put a face to the issue of distracted driving as they weighed a bill that would ban hand-held cell phone use while behind the wheel, so he held up an oversized photo of his daughter Katie, who died in 2013 after being hit by a car.
The driver who hit Katie Brannelly and two others in Norwood center on March 8, 2012, said she was not on her phone at the time, Tom Brannelly said, but law enforcement officials told him that the woman's phone sent or received eight text messages during a 25-minute period before the crash.
Katie Brannelly, 24, died about 15 months later, from complications related to injuries she sustained in the crash.
"This is what happens to people. Everybody sees it every day driving down the street," Tom Brannelly told the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security about cell-phone use by drivers. "They do it because everybody else does it. They don't get caught so they keep doing it. The fathers and mothers do it and then the children learn from the fathers and mothers."
The committee on Tuesday heard Brannelly's testimony — and only Brannelly's testimony — on a bill (H. 3474) filed by Rep. Cory Atkins to ban the use of hand-held phones while driving a car except in the case of an emergency.
Massachusetts already has a law banning texting while driving, but many drivers continue to fumble with handheld devices while behind the wheel, and advocates for the so-called hands-free phone option say it will improve public safety. Police say the texting-while-driving ban can be difficult to enforce for officers that must determine whether someone is texting or placing a call, which is legal. Drivers also hide phones in their laps.
Brannelly said he believes the state Legislature should go one step further and ban even hands-free cell phone use, including systems like Bluetooth.
Last month, the House gave initial approval to a similar bill filed by Rep. William Straus (H. 3315) and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg has said that a bill addressing cell phone use while driving will be among the Senate's priorities when the Legislature returns from its winter recess in January.
Though the Atkins and Straus bills are the same in their intent, the Atkins bill goes one step further by prescribing a fine structure and calling for the creation of a special police training trust fund into which the fines would be deposited. The fund would be used to pay to train police officers to spot distracted drivers.
Atkins did not testify before the committee in person on Tuesday. An aide said she is overseas and instead submitted written testimony on her bill. Atkins's staff did not immediately provide the News Service with a copy of her testimony.