The Massachusetts House passed a bill this afternoon that would ban texting while driving and require all drivers making cellphone calls to use hands-free devices.
The bill, which passed 146-9 after a debate that stretched through the afternoon, would also bar junior operators from using cellphones, and require drivers over 75 to renew their licenses in person every five years, rather than every 10 years.
In the early going of the debate, members voted 93-66 to approve an amendment from the floor requiring the use of hands-free devices.
"It is impossible to be dialing the phone and watching the road at the same time," said Representative Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat, who introduced the amendment, which passed without debate.
The House had also voted to require hands-free devices in 2008, but the legislation died in the Senate.
Representative Joseph Wagner, House chairman of the Transportation Committee, who introduced the overall bill, said it would send a message that "texting while driving will not be tolerated by motor vehicle operators in Massachusetts. It's a strong message. It's a message that should be sent."
The proposed rules for the elderly, which mean that elderly drivers would get a vision test every five years, fall far short of calls made last year to require mental fitness or road tests for older drivers.
But as he introduced the bill on the House floor this afternoon, Wagner emphasized that the Registry has already put in place procedures to deal with drivers who may not be fit to drive.
He noted that the Registry in 2008, for example, had asked 2,961 drivers to voluntarily surrender their licenses, had asked 2,331 drivers to take a road retest, and 1,747 drivers to provide a medical clearance form indicating that they could safely drive.
The Legislature is considering the proposed legislation after several years of high-profile news stories about accidents involving elderly drivers and people who were texting.
The bill now heads to the Senate.
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