BOSTON – The Senate on Tuesday passed safe driving legislation that bans texting while driving and makes it a primary offense, as well as establishing guidelines for assessing seniors’ ability to continue to drive safely. The bill was supported by State Senator Jamie Eldridge.
“This bill will make our roads safer for all drivers, passengers and pedestrians,” said Eldridge. “Texting while driving is just plain dangerous, and yet you see people doing it every day. Although it’s said ‘you can’t legislate common sense,’ we can reduce the number of people texting while driving by making it clear that this dangerous habit is not okay, and punishable like any other unsafe-driving offense.”
A 2009 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that teen drivers are four times more likely than adults to be involved in a crash because of texting, and truck drivers who text while driving are 23 times more likely to have an accident than someone who isn’t distracted.
The final bill included an amendment filed by State Eldridge to address the lack of transportation alternatives for seniors. The amendment would create a special commission to come up with a long term plan to finance and support transportation alternatives for seniors and people with disabilities.
“We need to be better about providing transportation alternatives for older drivers and people with disabilities,” said Eldridge. “This commission will help legislators, municipal leaders and future administrations prepare to meet the growing need for transportation alternatives.”
The legislation makes texting a primary offense, which means someone can be pulled over specifically for the act of texting while driving. It also establishes a fine of up to $200, two years in jail, or both for anyone who causes an accident while texting and driving.
Senator Eldridge supported an amendment to the bill that would have banned the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. Unfortunately, this amendment did not receive enough support and was not adopted.
The bill also prohibits “junior operators,” those under the age of 18, from both texting and talking on a cell phone while driving; and operators of public transit – including the MBTA, school buses and ferries – are prohibited from any use of cell phones, except in the case of an emergency.
The bill requires a person between the ages of 75 and 80 to submit once during those five years an assessment form to be developed jointly by the registry and the medical advisory board, but filled out by the person’s physician or health care provider. Based on that assessment, the registrar would determine if the person can safely operate the vehicle.
After a person turns 80, the form would have to be filed every three years. Those who are denied their license can request a road test in an effort to demonstrate they have the skills necessary to keep their license and continue driving.
Additional provisions in the bill:
- Protects from civil liability those police officers and healthcare providers who notify the RMV that a driver may not be able to safely operate a motor vehicle, and provides immunity from liability for a failure to report;
- Requires drivers with three surcharged moving violations within two years to take a driver re-training course or have their license suspended indefinitely until completing the course. Current law is five incidents in three years; and
- For separate instances of the RMV suspending or revoking the license of a driver 75 or older due to medically diagnosed mental or physical disabilities, the legislation expedites the appeals process for the driver, requiring that a hearing be held within 14 days of the suspension or revocation, and further requiring the registrar to consider all medical evidence and make a decision within seven days after the hearing.
The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives for further action.