BOSTON — Massachusetts drivers would no longer be able to use hand-held cellphones behind the wheel under a bill approved by state lawmakers.
"Up all night, it's over, it's just over, you know, I'm glad it's over people are going to be safer now on the roads, and Katie would be proud," said Tom Brannelly, who lost his daughter to distracted driving.
After years of fighting, families who have lost loved ones to distracted drivers got a big win on Beacon Hill.
The Senate voted 38-1 in favor of the bill Wednesday. The House approved it on a 153-1 vote Tuesday.
The legislation now heads to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker for his signature. Baker has expressed support for a ban on drivers using hand-held cellphones and filed a bill earlier this year that included similar language.
Hands-free cellphones would still be allowed. Massachusetts already bans texting while driving. The bill would impose fines of $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a subsequent offense.
The bill would also require the Registry of Motor Vehicles to collect data from traffic stops, including the driver’s age, race and gender without identifying the driver.
The information would help identify police agencies that may be engaging in racial or gender profiling.
Every other New England state already bans drivers from using hand-held cellphones.
Emily Stein of the Safe Roads Alliance, whose father Howard was killed in 2011 by a distracted driver, was emotional Wednesday as she left the chamber, relieved that the battle they've been fighting is nearly over.
"These deaths can be prevented so this law passing today means so much not only can we now educate the public about the dangers of distracted driving, but we can help law enforcement enforce the law," said Stein.
Democratic state Sen. Joseph Boncore, co-chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said distracted driving claims about 3,000 lives a year in the United States. He said 30% of drivers admit to using the internet or social media while driving.
“These deaths are preventable,” Boncore said during Wednesday’s debate. “Too many parents have lost children. Too many children have lost parents.”
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The bill would still allow drivers to view maps generated by a navigation system as long as the electronic device is mounted on the car’s windshield or dashboard. A driver would not be considered to be operating a car if it isn’t moving and not located on a part of a street intended for traffic.
The legislation also states that a driver using a cellphone in response to an emergency can use evidence of the emergency — such as a disabled vehicle, accident or medical emergency — as an affirmative defense to an alleged violation. Nothing in the bill would allow police to seize a cellphone.
Under the bill, a third or subsequent violation would be a considered a surchargeable incident under state car insurance policies.
The bill also seeks to curb racial or gender profiling by requiring the collection of data from traffic stops — not just the race, age and gender of the driver, but also the date and time of the offense, the municipality where it occurred, whether there was a search as a result of the stop and whether it resulted in a warning, citation or arrest.
That information would be turned over to a university or nonprofit organization to be analyzed. Under the bill, the state would be required to release a public report each year based on the data.
If a police agency is found to have engaged in racial or gender profiling, the public safety secretary and state attorney general would require the agency to collect more detailed data on traffic stops and undergo implicit bias training.
The sole dissenting vote in the Senate came from Democratic Sen. Rebecca Rausch, who said the bill doesn’t go far enough in addressing racial profiling.
If signed by Baker, the new law would take effect 90 days later. Up until March 31, 2020, drivers who violate the law would be issued a warning for a first violation.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia prohibit drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
© 2020 Associated Press