Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed legislation H4794 into law last week banning drivers from texting behind the wheel. The new law has made Massachusetts the 29th state to pass a law restricting texting behind the wheel. The passed legislation bans drivers from reading or writing an e-mail, texting and basically anything that doesn’t include talking on the phone while driving. Drivers over age 18 will still be permitted to take phone calls while behind the wheel.
Drivers under 18 years are prohibited from using a cell phone while behind the wheel. On a first offense the teenager can face a fine of $100 and a 60 day license suspension. If a suspension is given, the driver will have to complete a driver attitudinal course in order to reinstate their license. For repeat offenses charges can reach up to $500. These fines will not be considered a moving violation and is not expected to affect a driver’s surcharge.
“Texting while driving has become a serious threat to the safety of our roads and drivers… We have taken strong action to keep our roads safe by banning texting while driving and instituting needed measures to keep impaired drivers off the road. Protecting the safety of our residents is our most important task as elected officials and this bill will do just that.”
– House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo
The new law affects mature drivers as well. Those 75 years or older will need to renew their licenses in person and pass a vision text every five years to keep a current license. Under current laws these drivers have only needed to renew in person every 10 years. Further than the young and elderly, any driver who accrues three or more surchargeable incidents within a two-year period will be required to take a driver retraining and safety course or face a license suspension.
The new law is to take effect in October when officers may pull over any driver suspected of using a cell phone for a purpose other than making or receiving a phone call behind the wheel.
Fatal accidents involving teenagers under 18 years of age has fallen 75% in the past three years after Massachusetts began implementing the Junior Operation License Law creating harsher penalties for younger drivers and making it more difficult to obtain a license. These added difficulties and punishments junior operators face have not only driven down fatalities, but speeding tickets as well. The number of speeding tickets young drivers under 18 has fallen almost 60% in the past three years. According to an article in The Boston Globe, the number of teens cited for seat-belt violations, passenger restrictions, and other offenses has fallen at a similar rate as the speeding ticket decrease.
These numbers are welcomed graciously as motor vehicle accidents is the number one killer of teens in the nation. According to the Massachusetts RMV website new drivers are four times more likely to be killed and 14 times more likely to be injured in an accident than any other group. The tougher laws and testing are key efforts used to keep these high risk drivers from being involved in an accident, injured, or killed.
Massachusetts officials believe the decreasing fatalities may be accredited to the Junior Operator License Law passed in 2006 after a number of highly publicized fatalities involving junior operators or drivers under 18 years. The stricter laws took effect March 31st, 2007 increasing driver’s education requirements and penalties for violations junior operators.
A great example of just how firm these new laws are would be the consequences a junior operators experiences after their first speeding ticket. Under old legislation a young driver would be given a fine and slap on the wrist, however the newer 2006 legislation goes much further. Now a junior operator first time ticketed speeder will have his or her license suspended for 90 days. After a three month suspension the teenager must pay a $500 reinstatement fee, attend two four-hour training classes, and retake the state driver’s exam to regain a license. The newer laws have also doubled the time spent behind-the-wheel in driver’s education from six to twelve hours. It has also increased the supervised driving time from 12 to 40 hours teens must accumulate before seeking a license.
“As governor and as a parent I am happy to see that we are creating safer streets and better driving habits among our young drivers. Our number one priority is protecting the safety of the traveling public, and our successful implementation of the Junior Operator License Law is clearly reducing teen driver crashes and saving lives.’’
-Governor Deval Patrick
Patrick has earned bragging rights, from merely glancing over the decreasing number of tickets, violations and accidents involving junior operators since the new legislation. Massachusetts for years averaged two or more fatal accidents a month involving these young drivers, with over 79 in the three years prior to the new stricter legislation taking effect. The following year there were 20, the year after that 15, ans six over the last year. Speeding tickets were greatly reduced as well. The year prior to the Junior Operator License Law enactment, Massachusetts junior drivers received 10,127 tickets. This number has dropped drastically to 4,291 tickets from March 31, 2009 through March 30, 2010. Although it the consequences of young adult driving are harsh, our roads have been made a safer place.