Last updated: August 15, 2015
Cell phone, text messaging news: At least a half dozen distracted driving bills are before the General Court for 2015-2016. “I think this is a really critical issue to make our highways safe for everybody, for young and old drivers alike,” says state Rep. Cory Atkins, who seeks a ban on handheld cell phone use by motorists. She cites an “absolute crisis” resulting from drivers’ use of cell phones, an activity not regulated for adults.
Law officers in Massachusetts have written about 15,000 citations under the electronic distracted driving laws since the texting ban was enacted in 2010, the Highway Safety Office says. Law officers say their ability to enforce the laws is hampered by an inability to tell if drivers are texting (illegal) or entering phone numbers into their handheld communications devices (legal).
State Sen. Thomas McGee, chairman of the Joint Transportation Committee, supports a ban on handheld cell phone use and is optimistic one could succeed in the current two-year General Court session. But, “There’s always the opposition every time you put more regulations in place,” McGee told Fox25. The panel is expected to clear at least one cell phone bill in the fall.
Cell phone use was linked to 39 crashes in 2013.
- Text messaging banned for all drivers, as well as other Internet-related activities. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $250, then $500.
- Cell phone use prohibited for drivers under 18, as well as use of other mobile electronics. Fines as above, plus graduated license suspensions.
- School bus operators and other public transit drivers barred from using cell phones while driving. Fine: $500.
Distracted driving legislation (2015-16):
H2946: Seeks tougher penalties for distracted driving violations. Penalties would be $250 and a permit or license suspension of 90 days for a first offense; fine of $500 for a second offense; fine of $750 for subsequent offenses. Would give insurance companies access to distracted driving infraction records. Specifies drivers can be fined while paused in traffic. See H3014, below. (Ayers)
H3068: Would bar use of mobile phones while driving. (Provost)
H3122: Amends penalties for mobile device use by drivers under age 18, adding a $250 reinstatement fee. (Walsh)
H3315: Would require drivers using mobile telephones to be in hands-free mode while operating a motor vehicle. (Straus)
H3307: Would require wireless service carriers to provide an application that prohibits texting while driving by users under the age of 18. (Dykema)
HD1790: Would require hands-free operation of mobile phone while driving. Fines: $500 to $1,500. (Atkins)
Distracted driving notes (2015):
State Rep. William Straus, sponsor of H3315, says there is “no personal liberty to create unnecessary hazards” on the roadways. He’s the House chairman of the legislature’s transportation committee.
All of Massachusetts’ neighboring states have cell phone driving laws, with the enactment of New Hampshire’s law in summer 2015.
State Rep. Cory Atkins hosted a panel discussion on distracted driving April 1. “The consequences (of cell phone use while driving) can be fatal,” Atkins said. “There are too many things accessible by phone now, too, so the opportunity for distractions has increased exponentially.”
“An investigation” by Fox25 and Northeastern University’s School of Journalism found enforcement of the state texting law is “limited and ineffective.” “The inability to enforce the ban is not only putting lives at risk, but also causing the state to lose out on millions of dollars in federal funding,” their report said.
2013-2014 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 3588: Would outlaw use of handheld cell phones while driving in Massachusetts. All drivers. Hands-free OK. “No further action taken.” (Joint Committee on Transportation )
H3005: Would prohibit use of handheld cell phones while driving. All drivers. Hands-free OK. (Atkins)
H3014: Proposes tougher penalties for distracted driving violations. Penalties would be $250 and a permit or license suspension of 90 days for a first offense; fine of $500 for a second offense; fine of $750 for subsequent offenses. Would give insurance companies access to distracted driving infraction records. Specifies drivers can be fined while paused in traffic. (Ayers)
H3123: Would bar use of mobile phones in school zones. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $200 and thereafter $300. (Poirier)
H3124: Would prohibit use of cell phones while driving in Massachusetts. (Provost)
H3135: Seeks to prohibit use of cell phones in school zones. Would apply to all drivers. (Provost)
H3169: Would prohibit use of handheld mobile telephones or mobile electronic device. Hands-free mobile telephone use OK. (Wagner)
Senate Bill 1639: Would punish drivers whose actions threaten “vulnerable users” of roadways such as pedestrians and bicyclists. Fine $250 with possible 30 days in prison. In civil cases, would make “intentionally distracted” drivers who harm vulnerable users liable for actual and punitive damages. (Brownsberger)
S1647: Would prohibit use of cell phones by drivers unless they are operated hands-free and/or afixed to the vehicle. Fines: $50 (first offense), then $100 and then $250. (Creem)
S1682: Would outlaw use of handheld cell phones while driving. Includes text messaging via Internet. Moving violation. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $250 and then $500. (Montigny)
2013 distracted driving notes:
At least nine pieces of distracted driving legislation were before the House and Senate in 2013. Five of the bills sought to ban use of handheld cell phones by all drivers. In 2012, the Transportation Committee pooled the assorted cell phone bills, but the measure didn’t succeed.
The joint Transportation Committee’s chairmen said they support a ban on use of handheld cell phones while driving. The panel held a hearing June 26 on the swarm of distracted driving bills up for consideration this year. “The committee has been clear in favor of this kind of limitation in the past, and we’ll see where we go,” said Transportation co-chairman Rep. William Straus.
Massachusetts State Police are out in force seeking drivers who violate the state’s distracted driving laws. The first crackdown using federal funding ran through June. State Police are fielding an additional 190 patrols in a dozen cities. Massachusetts received the federal grant for development of “high-visibility anti-texting enforcement programs.”
Police wrote 1,700 tickets statewide for texting and driving during 2012, the Department of Transportation reports. That’s up from 1,147 in 2011, which was the first full year under the Massachusetts text messaging & driving law.
The Legislature’s Transportation Committee chairmen said June 26 that they support a ban on handheld cell phones for all drivers. Several lawmakers made the argument at a hearing that outlawing the mobile phone use would make possible realistic enforcement of Massachusetts’ existing texting & driving law. “You eliminate the guessing by public-safety officials who have to decide are they texting or are they dialing,” said state Rep. Cory Atkins, D-Concord. Co-chairman Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, said during the hearing that the commitee supported cell phone legislation in the past and “we’ll see where we go” this year.
Under the federal funding for distracted driving enforcement, Massachusetts will experiment with various ways of identifying drivers in violation of the texting ban. These efforts will be documented for the benefit of other states, the NHTSA said last fall in announcing the $275,000 grant. Texting & driving sweeps will be conducted at least four times over a period of two years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.
Techniques may include stationary and roving patrols, and the use of “spotters on overpasses on elevated roadways.” Law officers nationwide say that texting laws are difficult to enforce when a handheld cell phone ban is not also in force. Massachusetts allows cell phone use by adult drivers. Connecticut also received a grant.
Families of distracted driving victims helped launch the “End Distracted Driving” campaign with an appearance at the State House on Feb. 4. The Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers is participating in the program. Gov. Deval Patrick declared it “Distracted Driving Day” in Massachusetts.
2011-2012 distracted driving legislation:
H3938: Would bar all drivers from using a mobile telephone or other mobile electronic device without a hands-free accessory. Represents H1817, 2651, 3069 and 3085. (Mattapoisett/Transportation Committee)
H1817: Prohibits the operator of a vehicle from using a mobile telephone or other mobile electronic device without a hands-free accessory. Approved by the Joint Committee on Transportation in an 8-0 vote taken Jan. 26. Three panel members abstained. (Wagner)
H3069: Would ban use of handheld cell phones by all drivers in Massachusetts. (Atkins)
H935: Would prohibit use of wireless telephones while driving through school zones. Fines: $100 for the first violation and then $200 and then $300. (Poirier)
H3086: Would outlaw use of cell phones while operating a vehicle in school zones. (Provost)
SB 1732: Would prohibit drivers from using handheld cell phones. (Creem)
S1764: Would require drivers to use hands-free devices while making cell phone calls. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $250, then $500. Moving violation. (Montigny)
S1765: Would prohibit use of cell phones while driving through school zones. (Montigny)
S1810: Would bar holders of junior driver’s licenses from using cell phones. Fine up to $100 and possible one-year loss of license. Non-moving offense. (Tolman)
2012 distracted driving notes:
No distracted driving legislation advanced in the Legislature during 2012. Several bills seeking a handheld cell phone ban were pooled in the House by H3938, created by the Transportation Committee.
Gov. Deval Patrick appears open to a ban on use on handheld cell phones, but admitted he hadn’t given the issue much thought. Patrick signed the state’s text messaging law.
A Massachusetts teen appears to be on his way to prison after being convicted of vehicular homicide and texting while driving. Aaron Deveau, 18, caused the death of a New Hampshire man in a 2011 crash, the court found. A passenger suffered serious injuries as well. Prosecutors said Deveau had received dozens of text messages that day, including one that arrived just before the wreck. Deveau’s lawyer maintained that prosecutors were eager to link texting to the case, regardless of the evidence.
“I made a mistake,” Deveau told the court after the June 6 sentencing. “If I could take it back, I would take it back.” The teen actually received a 4 1/2 year prison term, but the judge suspended most of the time. Deveau also lost his license for 15 years. A New Bedford man received a similar sentence for a texting death in 2008.
Statewide, police have written more than 1,715 tickets for texting and driving since the practice was outlawed in fall 2010. Almost half of the citations came from state police, the state Department of Transportation said in late May 2012.
Rep. William Straus, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation, told the State House News Service that he expects the handheld cell phone measure H1817 to clear the House but run into trouble in the Senate. Straus, D-Mattapoisett, said new members of the Senate probably will determine the bill’s fate since previous votes there have been close.
Two of the three Transportation Committee members who abstained from voting on H1817 are senators.
“Without this bill (H1817), the texting ban is meaningless,” says Rep. Steve Howitt, R-Seekonk, of the Transportation Committee.
Rep. Betty Poirier, R- North Attleboro, points to one reason that cell phone bans are a tough sell: “All legislators use their cell phones; they travel a lot,” she said.
The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation approved a handheld cell phone bill Jan. 26. The vote was unanimous, but three members abstained from voting. The measure would require drivers to use hands-free devices while making phone calls.
The Joint Committee on Transportation’s Jan. 10 hearing on handheld cell phone proposals drew only one speaker: A father who lost a son in a crash linked to cell phone use while driving.
“If my son had been on a hands-free device that day, he would be here,” Jerry Cibley told lawmakers. He called Massachusetts’ 2010 text messaging law “a miserable failure,” the State House News Service reported.
Lobbyists did turn out at the cell phone law hearing, however. Rep. James Miceli, D-Tewksbury, charged that “year after year” they “come right in and kill the (cell phone ban) issue.”
2011 distracted driving notes:
Massachusetts’ new law prohibiting cell phone use by drivers under age 18 is mostly a bust, the Boston Herald reports.
Only a dozen junior drivers had their licenses suspended for cell phone use since the law went into effect Sept. 30, 2010, the Herald said in August 2011. Police wrote about 700 texting citations to adults over the same period.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation reports that as of late May, 951 distracted driving tickets were handed out since October 2010, when the state’s text messaging law went into effect. About 600 were for texting while behind the wheel; the rest went to drivers under the age of 18 who were using handheld electronic devices.
Rep. Denise Provost, Rep. Elizabeth Poirier and Sen. Mark Montigny have filed legislation in their houses seeking to prohibit all drivers from using cell phones while in school zones.
2010 legislation notes:
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law a ban on text messaging on July 2. The House and Senate’s compromise legislation was sent to the governor on June 25, after the Senate’s unanimous vote. The House vote two days earlier was 150-1.
Gov. Patrick said as he signed the distracted driving bill into law: “Texting is one of the riskiest distractions that endangers public safety and today we are joining other states by saying it will no longer be tolerated.” The signing audience included people who lost family members to distracted drivers.
A joint House-Senate panel on June 22 reached their compromise using the two driving safety bills approved in 2010. HB 4795 bans texting while driving, but does not prohibit the use of handheld cell phones for adults. (Read the new Massachusetts distracted driving law)
The new law prohibits all drivers from texting while behind the wheel and bans use of all cell phones by drivers who are 16 and 17 years old. The young drivers are barred from using a variety of devices (TVs, video, PCs) under the heading “mobile electronic devices.”
Fines for adults: $100 (first offense), then $250 and $500. Fines for drivers under 18: $100 plus 60-day license suspension and youth traffic school (first offense), then $250 with six-month suspension and then $500 with a one-year suspension. Tickets are not moving violations and do not affect insurance premiums.
The new bill also requires a public awareness campaign for distracted driving issues, to begin Jan. 1.
There were significant differences in the distracted driving plans. Complicating the situation was the legislators’ different approaches to age-based testing for the elderly. That, too, was resolved.
The compromise, apparently, was the House dropping its ban on handheld cell phone use for adult drivers and the Senate agreeing to watered-down restrictions on elderly drivers.
The full House had passed a bill crafted by the Joint Transportation Committee that would ban texting and the use of handheld cell phones while driving. The measure also sought to prohibit drivers under age 18 from using cell phones of any type. Fines for violators $100/$250/$500.
In the Senate, a measure banning text messaging for all drivers was approved on March 2. (It cleared the Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 25.) The bill called for primary enforcement after criticisms of its previous plan for secondary enforcement. An amendment that would have included handheld cell phones to the texting ban was defeated 18-16. The bill would prohibit drivers under age 18 from using cell phones of any type with stiffer penalties than the House version. Fines $100/$250/$500.
The House bill is a “redraft” of HB 3354, filed a year ago (Wagner). The Feb. 4, 2010, House vote was 146-9. Transportation Committee co-chairmen Rep. Joseph F. Wagner, D-Chicopee, and Sen. Steven A. Baddour, D-Methuen, unveiled the plan a week earlier, but it did not include the hands-free requirement for cell phone use. Wagner’s amendment to add a handheld cell phone ban to the House bill passed by a 91-66 count.
SB 2246: Legislation that would authorize the City of Boston’s ban on text messaging. (Petruccelli)
The Daily Hampshire Gazette editorialized: “While an important and overdue step to protect the public from distracted drivers, (the new texting law) falls short of what’s needed: A law that requires drivers to use hands-free mobile phone devices when driving. … For seven years the Legislature has debated the mobile phone issue. This was the year to make something happen.”
The Gazette also said of the ban on cell phones for the youngest drivers: “What makes it safer to talk and juggle a cell phone while driving at age 19 or 20 than at 17? Is there a notable improvement in judgment at 18? Written the way it is, the law makes cell phone use behind the wheel a rite of passage for 18 year olds a goal to aspire to. Is this really what the Legislature intends?”
House Speaker Robert DeLeo had vowed some kind of driver safety bill will pass during the 2010 session. “That’s not going to get lost in the end-of-the-year shuffle,” DeLeo told the AP.
The House’s Feb. 4 vote on the Transportation Committee bill included approval of an amendment that lowered its penalties on junior drivers. The measure now calls for suspensions of 7 days, then 30, then 90.
“This sends a message that texting while operating a motor vehicle in the Commonwealth will not be tolerated,” Rep. Joseph Wagner said after the Joint Committee on Transportation approved the composite bill to outlaw texting for all drivers as well as cell phone use by drivers under 18.
The Senate legislation calling for a text messaging ban was introduced Feb. 25. Its original restrictions on violations to secondary enforcement was due in part to concerns over racial profiling, the Senate president said. The bill as approved by the Senate on March 2 now calls for primary enforcement. Primary enforcement empowers police to pull over and cite drivers for that violation alone. With secondary enforcement, another violation is needed for a stop.
Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, pushed for upgrades to the Senate’s texting plan that would add handheld cell phones and primary enforcement. He lost on the cell phones but succeeded with the enforcement status. “It’s unconscionable that we’re still debating this,” he said. “It’s time to put a law that’s as strong as any law in the nation.”
Both distracted driving bills (House and Senate) include plans designed to cut down on accidents involving elderly drivers. That issue has dominated debate on the bills.
The Massachusetts House and Senate are in session through July.
New Bedford approved a citywide ban on text messaging while driving on April 22. Fines are $100 (first offense/$200/$300. “It took us three months,” said City Council sponsor Steve Martins. “Our state lawmakers have been working on a bill for years … and they still haven’t decided.”
New Bedford parents are up in arms over a video that shows a school bus driver chatting away on a cell phone while transporting students.
Medford’s City Council gave final approval to its ban on text messaging June 15. Fines $100-$300. The new law’s sponsor said he was tired of waiting for action from the capital: “The state legislature’s inaction on this issue has really bothered me. … They just fell asleep at the wheel,” said City Councilor Michael Marks.
Boston’s City Council voted unanimously in December for a ban on texting while behind the wheel. The city has petitioned the state Legislature for home-rule approval (see SB 2246, above). The Council had a public hearing on the text messaging issue Dec. 7. “They say you can’t legislate common sense, but I this case I think we need to do something about it,” said Councillor John Tobin, the legislation’s author. He indicated the intent was to pressure the state Legislature to pass one of the many bills pending before it regarding distracted driving. The Legislature would have to sign off on a Boston-area ban on text messaging as a “home rule” petition.
The Boston texting ban would receive “primary” enforcement, meaning police can pull over violators for that reason alone. Fine range between $100 and $300.
The Boston transit agency (trolley, bus and train) has disciplined 18 workers for violations of the cell phone ban, 10 of them fired. (A second offense means termination.) The MBTA policy went into effect on May 18, 2009, after a subway crash was blamed on a text-messaging driver.
Quincy has voted to ban texting within city limits. City council president Kevin Coughlin, author of the legislation, says he has been hit twice by text messaging teenagers. Fines for the “primary offense” would be $100 first offense then $200 and then $300. The Quincy texting ban was approved by the City Council on Feb. 15, 2010, and sent to the Legislature as a request for a “home rule” exemption.
Note: The Massachusetts Legislature web site does not provide reliable status updates on current bills. Information presented here may be incomplete.
HB 4795: Compromise distracted driving bill created by House and Senate negotiators. Replaces all texting and cell phone bills related to driving.
HB 3259: Would ban use of handheld cell phones by all drivers and any cell phones by junior drivers. (Koutoujian)
HB 3160: Would outlaw text messaging by all Massachusetts drivers. (Atsalis)
HB 4029: Would prohibit handheld cell phone use and text messaging by drivers with junior licenses. (Murphy)
HB 4015: Junior operators of motor vehicles would be banned from using cell phones and text messaging devices. (Alicea)
HB 3369: Would create a campaign to spread awareness of the dangers of text messaging while driving. To be funded by voluntary contributions from telecommunications companies. (Welch)
Legislative, legal roundup:
Senate budget bill: A ban on texting while driving was approved by the full Senate on May 21, 2009, as part of the overall state budget bill. The provision was stripped out after the bill went to a conference committee with the House, on the grounds that it had nothing to do with the budget.
Sen. Steven A. Baddour, D-Methuen, introduced the amendment. It also would have prohibited public transit operators from holding a cell phone while driving.
Note: The Massachusetts Legislature web site does not provide reliable status updates on current bills. Information presented here may be incomplete.
A legislative hearing on June 11 surveyed more than a dozen 2009 bills that would ban text messaging and/or limit cell phone use while driving. The Transportation Committee heard from the mother of a teen driver who died just after receiving a text message.
“Texting while driving has become the new drunk driving,” said Rep. Peter Koutoujian.”You can tell someone is on their cellphone just by the way they’re driving.”
Sen. Steven Baddour’s text messaging amendment would bring a $75 fine and possible insurance penalties. He told fellow senators on May 21:
“The fact that we recently had a number of tragedies with young adults texting, we have a generation of drivers who think it’s OK to drive while texting. For people to suggest that holding a cell phone is the cause of accidents is not supported by the facts. At the end of the day, that’s where we need to do a better job, educating people.”
Almost 50 people were injured when a trolley operator in Boston crashed into the rear of another trolley while sending a text message to his girlfriend. The May 8 crash inspired an immediate city ban on drivers of trolleys, trains, and buses having cell phones in their possession while working.
A New Bedford man was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for killing a 13-year-old bicyclist while text messaging and driving. Craig P. Bigos will see his drivers license revoked for 10 years as well, according to the Nov. 12, 2008, sentence.
The New Bedford Eagle editorialized on May 15, 2009: “Text messaging has become part of the culture, which won’t change. It has also become a threat to others on roads and trains, and that has to change.”
Cell phone use was cited in 435 vehicle crashes around the state in 2007, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles reported. In 2008, the preliminary number was just shy of 400.
HB 4477: Would require drivers to use hands-free devices while making cell phone calls. Would prohibit drivers under the age of 18 from using cell phones regardless of whether hands-free devices are engaged. Would prohibit drivers from sending text messages and e-mails while driving. Calls for a one-time $600 insurance surcharge for first offense. “No further action taken.”
HB 4477 was approved by the House on Jan. 23, 2008, and advanced to the Senate, where the cell phone bill (2048) was last reported in the ethics panel. Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, told The Republican that there was no interest in the cell-phone driving bill in her chamber, and that she had not given it much thought.
Rep. Joseph F. Wagner, D-Chicopee, the moving force behind the House bill, is up against the Senate chairman of the transportation committee, who wants the legislation to die without a floor vote.
“Every independent study that I’ve seen … says it’s not the holding of the cell phone that causes the problem,” Sen. Steven Baddour said. “It’s the distraction of not paying attention.”