OPINION | Barry Richard: Tell Mass House to Pass Hands-Free Now
Massachusetts enacted a distracted drivers law in 2010 but is one of only two New England states that have yet to pass hands-free cell phone legislation. Supporters hope that will change before the current session ends in July. But, the legislation, which has already passed the Senate, remains stuck in the House where it faces an uncertain future.
Maine is the only other New England state without a hands-free law.
The AAA Foundation says the number of drivers who report using a cellphone behind the wheel has increased by 30 percent since 2013. Nearly half of the drivers report recently talking on a hand-held phone while driving, and nearly 35 percent have sent a text or email, though most believe it is wrong to do so, says AAA.
AAA Northeast Director of Public and Legislative Affairs, Mary Maguire tells me, "With 37,000 deaths on U.S. roads in 2016, we need to continue to find ways to limit driving distractions and improve traffic safety." AAA Foundation research shows drivers talking on a cellphone are up to four times as likely to crash while those who text are eight times as likely to be involved in a crash.
Governor Charlie Baker has recently expressed support for hands-free legislation, but House Speaker Bob DeLeo (D) has refused to commit. The Speaker recently told reporters, "Well, one of the things I hear about is some folks are very concerned it's a means to make, I don't want to say unauthorized stops, but stops of people who are driving and folks are concerned about discrimination that could be involved relative to those stops."
Sounds like DeLeo is suggesting that cops would use the law to pick on minorities or to otherwise just racially profile drivers. Seriously, these people really think this way. So, protecting your kid or your spouse from some maniac with a cellphone addiction takes a back seat to DeLeo's paranoia.
Call your State Representatives today and demand a vote on the hands-free bill. And if they refuse, kick them the hell out.