Alice H. Peisch
State representative, Wellesley Democrat
I support legislation banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving in Massachusetts. This is a commonsense policy for which I have consistently voted over the past several years when it has come before the House. I often hear from those in the MetroWest area concerned about accidents or near-accidents they have witnessed while driving along the MassPike or Route 9 caused by distracted drivers looking at their cellphones. Based on the number of people who have contacted me in support of such a ban, I believe that the majority of Massachusetts residents share this view.
In 2010, the Legislature passed a comprehensive safe-driving law that included a ban on texting for all drivers and a complete ban on hand-held cellphone use by junior operators. While this was a step in the right direction, it did not go far enough, since uses other than texting can be equally distracting for all drivers, regardless of age or experience. Moreover, the ban on texting only is difficult to enforce since it is virtually impossible for police to determine if a driver is texting or inputting a phone number.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 14 states and the District of Columbia currently ban all drivers from using hand-held phones, including our neighboring states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and New York. While opponents may argue that a full ban has had little impact on overall motor vehicle accident rates in these states, the prevention of even one fatal or serious accident is clearly worth the minor inconvenience we experience having to use a hands-free device while driving.
The Legislature is considering a bill this session to expand the ban on texting to a broader ban on all uses of hand-held mobile devices. This bill recently received a favorable report from the Joint Committee on Transportation and is awaiting further action from the Legislature. I believe that it is time for Massachusetts to join its neighbors and ban the use of all hand-held devices while driving, making the roads safer for all of us in the Commonwealth.
Ken Van Tassell
Clinton resident who works in Framingham; former Libertarian candidate for state representative in a MetroWest district
Imagine, if you will, the following scenario. Just another rainy Saturday night in Framingham. The radiance of a cellphone screen illuminates the cabin of a gray Ford Focus traveling east on the Massachusetts Turnpike. Is it the passenger’s phone or the driver’s? To the state trooper, that doesn’t matter. He has already secured the pretext needed to conduct another unjust fishing expedition involving a young adult’s motor vehicle.
As the driver lowers her window, the trooper asks, “Are there any illegal weapons or drugs in the car? Mind if I take a quick look around the inside of your vehicle?” What started out as a stop for a minor infraction quickly escalates to the driver being placed in handcuffs, and staring down the possibility of a year in jail for possession of the one ecstasy tablet she forgot was in her center console. Ask yourself, who is the victim in this crime?
Stories like this are already far too common, and prohibiting drivers from holding cellphones while making a call will do nothing to make the streets safer while providing yet another avenue for law enforcement officers to conduct pretextual traffic stops of motorists who are intimidated into waiving their right to deny an officer’s request to search their vehicle without a warrant.
The addition of this state law will surely be wielded as a tool in the continuance of a longstanding practice by Boston police of disproportionately stopping minorities. Despite comprising about 25 percent of the city’s population, African-Americans were the subject of a whopping 71 percent of Boston police-civilian encounters between 2015 and 2016.
Massachusetts already has strict laws and penalties for reckless driving, and those who are observed driving in a dangerous manner can be stopped, ticketed, or even arrested by law enforcement without the addition of this statute. Those who cause accidents due to driving distracted also bear the market penalty of increased auto insurance costs.
With community distrust of law enforcement at what seems to be an all-time high, isn’t it time that we step back and consider the benefits of reducing civilian-police encounters only to those that are absolutely necessary?
Last week’s argument: Should Holliston ban the sale of recreational marijuana?
Yes: 70.97% (22 votes)
No: 29.03% (9 votes)