Massachusetts Legislature Should Ban All Cell Phone Use While Driving

I love what I do for work, but sometimes it just amazes me how – sorry to be so blunt – downright stupid some people can be.

How stupid, you ask?

How about driving a car while you’re dialing, talking, or texting on a smart phone? But don’t a lot of people do it, you also ask? Yes. And a lot of people drive drunk, too – which is, in terms of neurological motor skills, functionally about the same as using a cell phone while driving. Yet so many drivers continue to do this – placing not only themselves, but more importantly, their own passengers and other drivers at risk of horrific injuries and even death.

As a Route 128 car accident lawyer, I’ve seen far too many very serious injuries, that one way or another involve the use of a cell phone/smart phone. Once at a stop light, I’ve even saw a driver with ear buds in, apparently listening to an iphone. (Yes, you read that correctly – which caused me to immediately pull over, and call 911 to report the plate number, vehicle description and location. I’d rather see that driver cited, than know that he later killed someone on the road, perhaps because I did nothing to prevent it.) Countless public service advertisements have run, in both print and broadcast media as well as the internet, urging drivers to turn the phone off when driving. Especially admirable have been some of the wireless carriers, including AT&T Wireless’ “It Can Wait” Campaign; they even have an app to alert callers and texters that you’re in “driving mode,”: and can’t speak to them at the moment, but will get back to them soon. Another especially admirable effort has been “End Distracted Driving” – founded, tragically, by a fellow plaintiffs’ trial lawyer, Joel Feldman of Philadelphia, who lost his daughter Casey in a motor vehicle accident caused by distracted driving. Casey was walking in a crosswalk on a beautiful simmer afternoon, when she was hit by a distracted driver. She was 21.

Tragic stories like this are far more common than most people think. I’ve written about them previously on this blog. Now, after a lot of talk, the Massachusetts Legislature is poised to perhaps do something about this treacherous problem.

Public hearings will begin later today before the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, to consider several bills that would require drivers to use hands-free technology such as Bluetooth. (Details are in that link.) Exceptions would be made for emergency situations, and they would be carefully defined to (hopefully) prevent abuse. (Translation: “Emergency” doesn’t mean you need to call the office, or home.) Our neighbor states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and New York and are alongside 14 states that have enacted hands-free laws. It’s time we in Massachusetts did the same – now. The Legislature passed a law in 2010 banning texting while driving by junior operators, age 18 or younger. Foolishly, the Legislature exempted drivers over the age of 18 from those provisions.

In my view as a Boston Car accident attorney, I don’t think this “hands-free” legislation goes far enough to protect public safety. All cell phone use should be banned while driving a motor vehicle, period. Why? Because enacting a “hands-free” law creates and promotes a false sense of safety: People (assuming they obey the hands-free requirement,) will feel a very false sense of safety – one that doesn’t exist. This is because the danger is created not so much by what your hands are doing – it’s what your thoughts are doing — which is, engaging in a dangerously distracting conversation.

Please click on both of those links, above – the one for AT&T Wireless and End Distracted Driving. Don’t just pass over them. The life you save, could be your own – or a loved one.

It’s time to fix this grave problem, now. I urge my readers to contact their state representatives and state senators, to urge enactment of a universal ban on all cell phone use while driving. If you don’t know your representative or senator’s State House phone number, you can get it here: (617) 722-2000. The Chairman of the Transportation Committee crafting this bill is Rep. William Straus, His State House phone number is: (617) 722-2400; email: William.Straus@mahouse.gov.

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