Mass. Could Ban Talking on Cellphones While Driving

Holding a cellphone to an ear to make a call while operating a car in Massachusetts could get drivers pulled over and fined under legislation up for a public hearing at the Statehouse.

The use of cellphones while driving has long been a source of contention. A 2010 state law already bans texting while driving and any cellphone use by junior operators 18 or younger.

But adults can still hold their phones and drive at the same time, as long as they're not texting or emailing.

Police have said it's hard to enforce the texting law since drivers can still lawfully hold a cellphone if they're talking to someone.

Other states have toughened their laws.

On July 1, New Hampshire joined several Northeast states including Connecticut, Vermont and New York that require motorists to use hands-free technology such as Bluetooth, with exceptions for emergency situations.

The bills are the subject of a public hearing Tuesday before the Judiciary Committee.

One of the bills would set a fine of $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense, and $500 for a third or subsequent offense. A violation would be considered a moving violation for purposes of the safe driver insurance plan.

Gov. Charlie Baker said he wants more information before deciding whether he'd support a ban on allowing motorists to hold a cellphone to their ear to talk while driving.

The Republican said he prefers not to speak on specific bills during the legislative process and before they reach his desk.

"I would certainly be interested in seeing where the conversation on this goes," Baker told reporters Monday. "The technology on this stuff has gotten a lot more sophisticated than it was five years or so ago when it was last discussed here."

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he's willing to take another look at proposals to tighten the law.

"I have heard from a couple of members in terms of their support so I'll take that into consideration and talk to the proponents and opponents like I would any other bill and make a decision," the Winthrop Democrat said.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, told reporters that he's voted for the bill in the past and will continue to support it.

Opponents of hands-free rules point to what they view as the penchant in Massachusetts to act as a "nanny state."

They say it's up to individual drivers to take personal responsibility to ensure that cellphone conversations aren't taking their attention off the road.

The committee is hearing public testimony on more than a dozen bills Tuesday including other proposals that would toughen the penalty for distracted driving, ban cellphone use while driving in school zones, and increase existing fines and penalties for texting and driving.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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