BOSTON — The Senate bill up for debate Thursday that bans Massachusetts motorists from using handheld devices would still allow the use of hands-free technology to facilitate phone conversations while driving, a distraction the nation's largest auto club says is just as dangerous.
Mary Maguire, director of public and legislative affairs for AAA Northeast, is cautioning lawmakers to recognize that the bill alone is "not a perfect solution" to making Massachusetts' roadways safer.
"We certainly support the hands-free bills that have been introduced in the House and Senate but we think it's important for drivers and for legislators to realize that this is not a perfect solution if it is indeed passed," said Maguire. "And that's because hands-free is not risk-free. The conversation itself is a very potent distraction for driving and that's true whether you're holding the phone or whether you're talking hands free."
Sens. Mark Montigny of New Bedford and Cynthia Creem of Newton sponsored the bills that led to the latest version (S 2093), which bans drivers from using a mobile electronic device, including a Global Positioning System or navigation device, unless a person is using the device in hands-free mode and not touching or holding the device except to "activate, deactivate, or initiate a feature or function."
"Drivers need to be more aware of the fact that when they get in their car they need to focus on their driving. That may require an attitude readjustment on all our parts," said Maguire, who added she hopes the bill will help limit the temptation of multitasking behind the wheel.
Maguire said AAA believes the bill will also make it easier for law enforcement to more effectively enforce the 2010 texting ban and reduce the number of potential injuries or fatalities on the road.
"This is something that is the most dangerous thing that most of us do everyday when we get behind the wheel and it's important to really try to take steps to make sure that you're the most responsible driver possible", she said.
If passed, Massachusetts will join 14 states and the District of Columbia that have banned handhelds electronic device use while driving for all ages, according to AAA.
There are 24 amendments pending to the bill. The Senate is scheduled to convene for its first formal session since November at 11 a.m.