Legislature Passes Ban on Hand-held Phones; Governor set to sign new law

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State Rep. James Arciero recently joined other Legislators in passing a bill to ban drivers from using hand-held electronic devices in vehicles unless they are in hands-free mode.

“This bill will increase safety on our roads and highways, as we all have become aware of the danger of distracted drivers who use their phones. The new law will complement the ban on texting which was enacted several years ago and will bring us into sync with the other New England states,” said Arciero.

The bill defines hands-free mode as one that engages in voice communication with and receiving audio without touching, holding or otherwise manually manipulating a mobile electronic device. Law enforcement officials will issue warnings to drivers for first offenses of the new law until March 31.

Additionally, this legislation improves transparency in public safety by granting expanded access to traffic stop data.  It has been 15 years since the last public report on traffic stop data; under this bill the state will be required to publish and analyze the data annually.  Expanding access to this information improves transparency and public safety outcomes.

The bill will also:

  • Allow for drivers to use mapping or navigation devices if they are affixed to the windshield, dashboard or central console or integrated into the vehicle and only involve a tap or a swipe;
  • Exempt use of electronics in the case of an emergency and for first responders if they are using the devices as part of their duties;
  • Penalize drivers with $100 fine for the first offence, $250 fine and safety course for the second offence and $500 fine and surcharge for third and subsequent offences;
  • Expand data collection of identifying characteristics including age, race and gender and location when police issue a uniform citation;
  • Hold law enforcement agencies accountable, if data suggests those jurisdictions may be engaging in racial profiling, by requiring them to collect data on all traffic stops for a one-year period and provide implicit bias training;
  • Require the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) to publish data online annually.
  • Mandate EOPSS to contract with a research institution to conduct an annual analysis of the data collected.
  • Direct the EOPSS Secretary to hold three public hearings across the commonwealth annually to present the findings of the annual report and analysis and field public testimony; and
  • Create a public awareness campaign informing and educating drivers on the dangers of using technological devices while driving.

“Too often we hear of the tragic consequences of drivers being severely hurt or killed, or hurting others, while using their electronic devices while driving.  I hope this new law will seriously curtail this use and make our streets more safe for the commuting public,” said Arciero.

The bill is currently before the Governor and is expected to be signed.