Mass. lawmakers may ban use of cell phones while driving
State lawmakers Wednesday are expected to debate whether to ban Massachusetts drivers from using cell phones behind the wheel.
Two recent accidents involving cell phone use and text messaging left two people dead. Those fatalities and other less-lethal incidents are driving some lawmakers to push for a law requiring hands-free cell phone use, but other lawmakers say existing laws are sufficient.
In September, police said a Framingham man was arguing on his cell phone when he crashed his car into a mailbox, then a fire hydrant and finally a utility pole.
The accident landed him in the hospital with head injuries.
In 2005, a woman in Framingham said she was reaching for a cell phone she had dropped when she slammed her Honda into a minivan, injuring the minivan's four passengers and herself, police Lt. Vincent Alfano said after the accident.
The state currently allows drivers to use hand-held phones as long as they keep one hand on the wheel and are not distracted, but as cell phone use and text messaging has become increasingly popular in recent years, the House is revisiting the issue.
``I can't imagine there are too many people driving without at least one hand on the wheel if not both,'' said Rep. Paul Loscocco, R-Holliston, who believes existing distracted driver laws are sufficient. ``It's just intrusive government gone one step too far.''
Loscocco, who serves on the Joint Transportation Committee, opposes the ban as both a lawmaker and a commuter, but said the House is likely to pass the bill.
A Nationwide Insurance study estimated that nearly 20 percent of drivers text message while in the car, and a Zogby poll reported that 66 percent of drivers between the ages of 18 and 24 admitted to texting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The bill before the Legislature would ban hand-held phones, pagers and other electronics and carries a $100 fine for a first offense, $250 for the second and $500 for all subsequent violations.
Drivers under 18 years of age would have their licenses suspended for using any mobile device, hand-held or otherwise, while operating a motor vehicle.
California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Washington and the District of Columbia have made it illegal to use hand-held phones while driving, with about a dozen other states restricting young drivers' phone use.
Last year Washington state and New Jersey became the first two states to specifically prohibit drivers from text messaging, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Lindsey Parietti can be reached at email@example.com