Massachusetts Texting While Driving Law Needs Enforcement

The no texting law, formally called the Massachusetts Safe Driving Act, went into effect on September 30, 2011. A Boston car accident lawyer ponders whether it is working; from October 1, 2010 to May 30, 2011, there were 733 citations in Massachusetts for texting while driving. This amounts to approximately 3 per day throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In addition, 41 drivers under 18 have received citations for operation of cell phones.

Earlier this year we reported on the death of a Haverhill man, allegedly by a teenager texting while driving in Massachusetts. While that criminal case remains unresolved in the Massachusetts courts, the question remains: Is the law working as a deterrent? Are police officers able to enforce it? Of course, one problem for police officers is differentiating between texting and dialing. Is there any physical difference between texting a short message and dialing a phone number?

The ban on texting in Massachusetts forbids teenagers under 18 from using mobile phones and forbids all drivers in Massachusetts from texting, but allows adults the use of cell phones in motor vehicles. For those under 18, the ticket results in an automatic 60 day license suspension. The law was passed in 2010.

According to the National Highway Safety Administration study, 5,474 deaths in 2009 were as a result of distracted drivers. This is 16% of all motor vehicle fatalities. 995 of those deaths were a direct result of cell phone use. In addition, NHSA studies show that 20% of all motor vehicle collisions are as a result of distracted driving. Furthermore, the Naturalistic Driving Study undertaken by NHSA showed that over 22% of all crashes AND near crashes were associated with distracted driving.

The American Automobile Association of Southern New England, a proponent of the ban, says emphasis needs to be put on education. A study undertaken by the AAA Foundation concluded that 94% of drivers found it unacceptable to text while driving.

One study says that 11% of all drivers are talking on a cell phone at any given moment. That is more than one out of every 10 driver on the roads in Massachusetts!

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a technology and law program. The director, Nicholas Ashford, is urging new laws and new technologies to resolve the problem of the dangerous nature of cell phone use in vehicles.

A proposed federal law, The Safe Drivers Act of 2011, filed by New York Representative to Congress Carolyn McCarthy, would require states to ban cell phone use while driving, except for emergencies. Could the federal government be today where Massachusetts was last summer when we reported on the upcoming ban on texting in Massachusetts?
The bottom line perhaps, as always, is economics. Text messages are sent approximately 4.2 billion times per day, resulting in over $60 billion in revenue for the phone companies. Do they have a vested interest in lobbying against anti texting laws? Further, 18-25 year olds are a disproportionate population of texters: they text 100 times per day! This is 95% of all texting. They spend a disproportionate amount of money to cell phone companies.