Less than two years after Massachusetts joined the ranks of states that banned texting while driving, a legislative committee endorsed a proposal Thursday that would largely prohibit handheld cellphone use by drivers, limiting calls to hands-free devices.
The bill (H 1817) won the backing of the Committee on Transportation, which voted 8-0 in support with three members abstaining. The National Transportation Safety Board recently voted to recommend a total ban on handheld cellphone use in cars in the United States.
Under the bill “No operator of a motor vehicle shall use a mobile telephone or mobile electronic device for voice communications, unless said telephone or device is being used as a hands-free mobile telephone.” Drivers may defend themselves against alleged law violations if they show their car was disabled, a passenger required medical attention, police or firefighter assistance was needed, or if they witnessed an accident on the roadway.
Rep. William Straus (D-Mattapoisett), co-chair of the Committee on Transportation, told the News Service that he expected the House would support the proposal – the branch has backed similar restrictions before – but that passage in the Senate, where hands-free requirements have been narrowly defeated in recent years, is still uncertain with new members in that branch potentially dictating its fate.
Straus’s co-chair, Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn), did not respond to a request for comment. McGee and Straus voted in support of the legislation, along with Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville), Rep. Carl Sciortino (D-Medford), Rep. Mark Cusack (D-Braintree), Rep. Steve Howitt (R-Seekonk), Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) and Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton).
Sen. Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster), Sen. Michael Rush (D-West Roxbury) and Rep. John Mahoney (D-Worcester) voted to withhold their opinion on the bill.
In 2010, the Senate voted 16-18 to defeat a handheld cellphone ban, with opponents contending that holding cell phones aren’t causing accidents, but rather the distraction of the conversation is to blame.
This program aired on January 26, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.