Massachusetts has joined a growing number of states, including Rhode Island, in addressing the danger of cell phones in cars. Today, September 30, the Massachusetts Safe Driving Act goes into effect. I wrote a similar post when Rhode Island officially banned text messaging while driving and I pointed out the immense dangers of texting while driving. In fact the distraction caused by using a cell phone is potentially more dangerous than drunk driving. US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood poignantly described the danger of text messaging while driving:
If you're looking down at your texting device for four or five seconds, you drive the length of a football field in a 4,000 pound unguided missile
Among the numerous provisions of the statute, most important is that teenage drivers, aged 16 and 17, can not use a cell phone at all while driving in Massachusetts. Teenage drivers are notoriously the worst drivers on the road and frequently in auto accidents. The combined inexperience on the road and distraction of cell phones while driving is a recipe for disaster.
Drivers over the age of 17 can still use a cell phone while driving but can not use the phone to send text messages. Of course, police will have a tough time determining whether a vehicle operator was dialing a phone number or writing a text message. Therefore, enforcement of this new Massachusetts law will be difficult.
Under the new Massachusetts law, a first texting offense for adults comes with a $100 fine. For drivers under 18 years old, the first offense for using a cell phone comes with a 60-day license suspension and $100 fine, plus required attendance at an "attitudinal retraining'' course. The second-offense penalty is a $250 fine and a 180-day license suspension.