Lawmakers advance compromise distracted driving bill

Sen. Dean Tran: “If everyone practiced tolerance, we wouldn’t have to witness violence in any capacity.” [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS/File 2018]

BOSTON –  Lawmakers ended their months-long impasse over distracted driving legislation Monday, advancing a compromise bill that will require hands-free use of all electronic devices behind the wheel but that does not require raw traffic stop data to be published.

A six-member conference committee filed a report with the House clerk’s office on Monday, more than five months after they began closed-door negotiations to resolve differences between separate bills that passed 155-2 in the House and 40-0 in the Senate.

Both bills banned all hand-held mobile device use while driving except for a single tap or swipe to activate hands-free mode, but they varied in how to approach insurance surcharges and how to collect demographic data on traffic stops.

The version filed by the conference committee requires the Registry of Motor Vehicles to collect demographic data from every traffic stop ending in a citation, according to a copy of the report provided by Rep. William Straus’ office.

That information will then be sent to an outside agency for analysis. While the agency’s annual report and aggregate data would be made public, the initial data itself would be kept private. All six members of the conference committee — Straus, fellow Reps. Joseph Wagner and Timothy Whelan and Sens. Joseph Boncore, William Brownsberger and Dean Tran — signed the report’s cover jacket. Gov. Charlie Baker supports the underlying push to require hands-free device use and included similar language in a driving safety bill he filed earlier this year.

Law enforcement has warned that the state’s existing ban on texting while driving contains loopholes that make it unenforceable. The branches are expected to vote on the report and send a bill to Baker by Wednesday.