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MMA Safety Update - Massachusetts "Texting Law"

Published on 9/28/2010


MMA Safety Update - Massachusetts "Texting Law"


FWIW, TXT Law BGNs 9/30/2k10


For those of us who don’t know what that means, or aren’t aware of the changes in the coming week, the Massachusetts Motorcycle Association (MMA) reminds its members that there’s a significant new law in effect this Thursday, September 30th, 2010…  The new law bans texting while driving and eliminates cell phone use for those under 18 in addition to other changes.


It’s estimated that approximately 959,000 traffic incidents last year were caused by distracted driving and 4,898 of those resulted in at least one death.  Indeed complaints are even more common as a daily occurrence for bad road behavior exhibited by drivers using cell phones.  As a result, Massachusetts joins 29 other states in passing a texting ban; almost all of those same states (28) have also banned cell phone use in some form.


Officially called the “Massachusetts Safe Driving Law” signed by Governor Deval Patrick in July, this new law bans all drivers from using ANY mobile electronic device to read or write text messages, emails, or search the internet while at the wheel.  In addition, drivers under the age of 18 are banned from using those same devices in any form, including voice calls.


A nuance of the law is that it involves ANY use while behind the wheel on a public way – that includes stop signs and red lights.  A driver must exit lanes of traffic and stop the vehicle to use the mobile device.


The new law also adds provisions that are aimed at making it easier for law enforcement officers and doctors to alert the state if they believe that someone is no longer mentally or physically fit to drive – this was originally targeted at senior drivers, but the new law now requires drivers over the age of 75 to renew their licenses in person at the RMV offices.


Additionally, the law targets removal of bad drivers from the roads by reducing the number of “surchargeable incidents” that are required before a license can be suspended.


First offenses result in a $100 fine and increase with subsequent offenses within 12 months.  Junior operators, on the other hand, are also fined $100 for a first offense but a 60-day license suspension as well as attendance at a mandatory “driver attitude retraining course” are also added to the penalty.


Citations issued against this law do NOT count against insurance surcharges, although penalties for subsequent offenses increase, as do penalties if serious injury or fatalities occur.  Additional penalties also apply to public transport (for example bus, train, and taxi) operators.


The new Massachusetts “Safe Driver Law” is summarized here:

The MMA cautions, however, that differing reports concerning components of the law are contained in the Massachusetts State Government Website Summary, the MassDOT Summary, and various news reports.  For the purpose of consistence, penalties and other specifics in this announcement have been taken solely from the Massachusetts General Law recently updated to reflect the detail changes identified here:


The MMA has very mixed and guarded feelings on this new law.  On the surface, this law is very well intentioned and can indeed save lives – especially motorcyclists who are often smaller and harder to see if a driver is not particularly paying attention, but also raises some concerns about individual rights.


Unfortunately, this law will be particularly hard to enforce, as confirmed by the Massachusetts Chiefs-of-Police Association.  Specifically, it will require special training to identify whether someone is using a mobile device unlawfully unless in obvious view of the law enforcement officer.


Additionally, it’s unclear how devices such as hand-held and after-market GPS will be handled.  It’s legal, per the new law, to operate an integrated GPS, and or read printed directions, but not operate GPS or mapping software on a personal device and possible one not permanently affixed to your vehicle.


Further, The Massachusetts Police Association (MPA) confirms that Law Enforcement can subpoena phones and phone records.  The MPA confirmed that it’s unlikely they would do so for the purpose of writing a ticket – that is really intended for investigating a serious injury or fatality.


Although seniors are no longer specifically singled out with the exception of being forced to renew a license in person, there are serious concerns on people’s rights of privacy, but time will tell whether the law is abused by either side.


In the interim, the intention is to create a significant deterrent towards distracted driving, which unless you haven’t been behind the wheel yourself in the past 2 or 3 years, you’d have to agree is a good thing.


While the MMA doesn’t truly believe that motorcyclists as a general rule text or use their phone while riding, the season is coming to a close and many motorcyclists are returning to their cars.


The MMA reminds its members that the new “No Texting” law goes into effect this Thursday, September 30th, and to drive with caution.  It’s best not to use a mobile device of any type, unless completely “hands free” with at least one hand on the wheel.  Junior operators are advised to not use any mobile device while behind the wheel.  If you must, pull over to a safe spot, out of the lanes of traffic..


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