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Massachusetts may finally ban driving with handheld phones

One of today’s most urgent traffic safety issues is distracted driving. As smart phones become an ever-larger part of our daily lives, drivers young and old just can’t seem to put them down while behind the wheel. And the consequences of all this distraction are obvious. About 8 percent of fatal crashes in Massachusetts (and 10 percent nationwide) are caused by distracted driving.

The problem is not limited to just texting while driving, which has been banned in most states. Even talking on a handheld cellphone is dangerous, which is why every other New England state has outlawed the practice. If recently proposed legislation passes, Massachusetts will be joining them.

The proposal is a joint effort by some state lawmakers and Gov. Baker to make it illegal for drivers to use a cellphone unless utilizing hands-free technology. Violators could face increasing fines for subsequent offenses and would incur mandatory insurance fees for a third offense within six years.

Banning handheld cellphone use would be beneficial in its own right because studies have shown that humans are not good at multitasking. Using a handheld cellphone involves a cognitive distraction as well as occupying at least one hand. But there would also be a secondary benefit to the law: it would help police officers better enforce anti-texting laws. At present, it is difficult to tell whether someone on a cellphone is texting (which is illegal) or just dialing a phone (which is legal). If the measure passes, police can pull over any driver spotted using a handheld cellphone.

While laws are certainly necessary and important, they can’t prevent distracted driving altogether, nor will they compensate victims who are injured or killed by distracted drivers. For that, victims and their family members should contact an experienced personal injury attorney.

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