The state Legislature will soon make it illegal to use hand-held cellphones while driving. It’s already against the law for motorists under 18 to do so. A bill recently passed by the Senate, which now must be reconciled with the House version, will extend that ban to every Massachusetts driver.
The Senate bill would ban holding mobile-electronic devices of any kind, like a cellphone or GPS.
But even before it becomes law, it’s already being dismissed by so-called experts who believe it will have a negligible effect on the number accidents caused by distracted drivers.
That’s essentially what Robert Sumwalt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, told The Sun.
That’s also the position of the nonprofit AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which concluded that even with both hands on the wheel, using a hands-free device while driving still impacts one’s cognitive ability.
Its conclusion: “Hands-free” doesn’t mean “risk-free.”
Well, no one ever said that any law — short of an outright prohibition of cellphone use while driving — could eliminate that risk.
Common sense suggests motorists who can utilize a hands-free device like Bluetooth to make or receive cellphone calls are more likely to have two hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of the 310 fatal motor-vehicle crashes reported by Massachusetts in 2014, 24, or 7.7 percent, involved a distracted driver.
Of course, those distracted drivers are just as likely to be texting as talking on a cellphone, and that’s where this new law could have its most significant impact. Right now, short of setting up a sting operation, it’s virtually impossible to enforce the no-texting statute.
John Paul, the traffic safety manager of AAA Northeast, agrees. “The push behind this bill is to try to bring some ability for law enforcement to be able to enforce no texting.”
Operators currently can plead the cellphone defense, since both functions emanate from the same device. This law would remove any question of illegality, because now all hand-held cellphones would be off limits.
Truly eliminating texting while driving– a byproduct of this hands-free law — undoubtedly would make our roadways safer.
And that’s more than enough reason for lawmakers to pass it.