While a true New England winter has not yet set in, there are plenty of hazards to navigate on the roads, including drivers distracted by cell phones and other handheld devices. The sight of a vehicle drifting into another lane because the driver is texting, emailing, GPS-ing or reading on a cell phone has become an all-too-common sight. Drivers need to be vigilant in order to avoid collisions with distracted drivers, which cause tens of thousands of collisions each year, many of which result in death.
In 2010, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a law making it illegal to “use a mobile telephone, or any handheld device capable of accessing the internet, to manually compose, send or read an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle.” A violation of this law is punishable by a fine of $100 for the first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for the third or subsequent offense, but under no circumstances would the penalty be a surchargeable offense. M.G.L. ch. 90, § 13B. However, despite people breaking the law on a daily basis, it turned out to be hard to prove that the driver was actually sending or reading messages while driving without subpoenaing phone records, something not generally done to prove a simple traffic violation, without a serious injury or fatality.
A new proposed law, entitled “An Act to Prohibit the Use of Mobile Telephones While Operating a Motor Vehicle,” Bill S.2093, if passed by the legislature, will ban the use of all handheld mobile devices while driving, except to “activate, deactivate or initiate a feature or function.” Moreover, someone who is seen by police driving with a phone near his or her ear or head, is presumed to be in violation of the law, placing the burden of proof on the individual to prove he or she was not violating the law, or that it was for emergency purposes. Fines for violating the new law will remain at $100 for the first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for the third or subsequent offense; however, the third or subsequent offense will be considered a moving violation and could affect your insurance premiums.