Boston pressures Legislature to ban texting while driving
After a proposed citywide ban on texting while driving breezed through Boston City Hall without opposition last week, lawmakers are hoping to renew the push to outlaw the practice statewide.
The proposed citywide ban must receive approvals from Mayor Thomas Menino, who is expected to sign the bill, which would require a home-rule petition to be approved by the Legislature to become law.
“Phones have become appendages to people,” said West Roxbury District Councilor John Tobin, who authored the proposal, which would ban “texting,” or typing on a cell phone, while driving on Boston streets.
“I’m not really interested in Boston being the only city that bans texting while driving,” he added. “The whole goal is to have this become statewide.”
Dozens of cities and states around the country have enacted or are considering similar laws, citing public safety concerns. Washington state became the first in the nation to issue a statewide ban in May 2007.
According to the Boston proposal, drivers would face a $100 fine for the first offense, a $200 fine for the second offense and a $300 fine for the third.
Tobin, who conceded he was a “former texting driver,” said he was moved to pen the bill after a constituent contacted him in August, e-mailing the councilor a graphic yet emotional online video of a British public service announcement that depicts an accident caused by teenager texting while driving and the ghastly aftermath.
That was his “wake-up call,” Tobin said.
The councilor said some studies have shown that drivers can travel the length of a football field in the time it takes to read and reply to a text message.
After the bill had passed the Boston City Council last week, 13-0, Tobin said he received an e-mail of thanks from a Marblehead man whose wife was 20 weeks pregnant with twin girls when she was rear-ended while driving on Cape Cod.
The driver was texting while driving, Tobin said the man told him.
The twins were born premature at 20 weeks. They were buried shortly after.
“I’m not looking for people to be taken away in leg shackles, but there has to be some price that has to be paid,” Tobin said.
The only people who have spoken against the bill are those who say it doesn’t go far enough, he added.
“There are those people who say it’s not enforceable, but I disagree,” Tobin said. Other communities across the state have shown interest in passing similar measures, he added.
If approved, the ban would fall under the primary enforcement statute, meaning drivers could get pulled over and cited for the offense.
“Advocates have said without primary enforcement, the law is useless,” Tobin said.
Meanwhile, the measure has already garnered support at the State House, where lawmakers have tried and failed to pass a statewide driving and texting ban.
Banning texting while driving was also supported by an online Transcript poll, which had more than 80 percent of those surveyed saying they’d like a ban on texting while driving.
For the Boston ban to become law, it must receive a two-thirds vote from legislators.
“Our office applauds the City Council for passing this important public safety measure,” said state Sen. Marian Walsh, D-West Roxbury, in an e-mailed statement. “We were supportive of a similar initiative that passed the state Senate earlier this year.”
She called the proposal “a critical first step towards a statewide ban on the dangerous practice of ‘texting’ while driving.”
State Rep. Mike Rush, D-West Roxbury, said he’d have to look at the bill and that he’d like to see a debate of the topic. But he wouldn’t commit to whether he thought texting while driving should be banned.
Sen. Steven Tolman, D-Brighton, also voiced his support for a statewide ban.
“We all know people that have [been] smashed into [by] somebody looking down when they were texting,” he said. “It’s not a new issue.”
Since 2007, the Legislature has made multiple attempts to enact texting while driving bans, but the bills died before making it to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk.
The fatal crash this month that killed Stephen Clark, 22, of Tewksbury, who police said drove into a tree in Lowell while texting, is a prime example of why no one should be texting behind the wheel, Tolman said.
“It’s unacceptable, it’s unsafe and it should not be tolerated,” he said.
Tolman said he hopes to help get this measure passed statewide, but added he wouldn’t stop at a ban on texting. He would prefer to have a law, such as those in New York and Connecticut, which requires drivers to use hands-free devices to talk on their cell phones.
Tolman — who said he has fought for years to pass a hands-free law in Massachusetts — said an issue the goes beyond public safety.
“It should be common decency and common sense of drivers not to be texting,” he said.