Massachusetts today took a major step toward banning texting while driving when a key Beacon Hill committee unanimously approved a bill that would outlaw the dangerous and ubiquitous practice and strongly punish violators.
The Transportation Committee’s approval was the strongest sign yet that Massachusetts will join a national movement that has already prompted 19 states plus Washington DC to ban texting while driving.
"This sends a message that texting while operating a motor vehicle in the Commonwealth will not be tolerated," state Representative Joseph F. Wagner, House chairman of the committee, said after holding a press conference on the bill with his Senate counterpart, Steven A. Baddour.
"In the time you're looking at the screen, you're not looking at the road, and that is a serious problem with regard to public safety, and it's a matter we should move forward and move forward quickly," Wagner said.
Under the bill, "no operator of a motor vehicle shall use a mobile telephone, mobile electronic device or other device capable of accessing the Internet to compose, send or read an electronic message while operating" a vehicle.
Drivers could only text "if the vehicle is stationary and not located in a part of the roadway intended for travel," according to the bill.
Violations would result in a fine of $100 for the first offense, $250 for a second offense, and $500 for a third offense. If drivers are found to have been texting when they caused an accident, they would be treated as reckless drivers under the law and could be jailed for up to two years.
Drivers under age 18 would be banned not only from texting but from using a cell phone in any way while behind the wheel. A first offense would result in a 180-day suspension of their license or learner's permit and a $100 fine; a second offense would result in a one-year suspension and a $250 fine; and a third offense would be punishable by a one-year suspension and a $500 fine.
On the beat
Columnist Adrian Walker says UMass Dartmouth is shaken after revelations that one of the Marathon bomb suspects was a student there. Read more