In 2016, an estimated 481,000 drivers operated a vehicle while also holding a mobile device. With an increase in usage comes an increase in injuries caused by distracted drivers. It is no surprise, then, that lawmakers and officials are paying more attention to distracted driving and other risky driving behaviors. In order to address the sharp increase in phone use while driving, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has recently proposed a ban on the use of hand held devices while driving. The proposed ban seeks to address a wide range of phone usage, including calling, surfing the web, and generally looking at the phone screen. Under Baker’s proposal, it would still be legal utilize hands-free calling while driving, and to perform “one touch” functions on the phone, such as unlocking and connecting to a hands-free device. It would be illegal to hold the phone while driving for any other purpose.
Proponents of the stricter law on cell phone use claim that the law would simply bring Massachusetts in line with neighboring states like Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York. The current Massachusetts law, which bans only texting, still leaves motorists exposed to the dangers posed by drivers who are reading on their phones, talking, and performing any of the other functions our phones can perform.
Undoubtedly, there is a strong safety interest in reducing distracted driving. The Massachusetts RMV details the three types of distractions associated with driving: visual (looking away from the road), manual (removing a hand/hands from the steering wheel), and cognitive (anything preventing one from focusing completely on driving safely). The RMV explains how all of these factors are present when one texts and drives, but these are also present in hand-held cell phone usage. With one or a combination of these factors, individuals open themselves up to the possibility of severely injuring themselves, fellow passengers, as well as other individuals who are driving, biking, or walking within the vicinity.