Massachusetts Safe Driving Bill Becomes Law

Governor Patrick signed into law a bill of comprehensive reforms to driving laws recently passed by the Massachusetts Legislature. The safe driving laws will go into effect in October in an effort to prevent distracted driving car accidents.

The law will ban all texting while driving with increasing penalties for multiple violations: first-time violators will receive a $100 fine, with fines increasing to $250 and $500 for subsequent violations. Texting while driving will also become a primary offense - that is, an officer may stop someone for violating the texting ban, if he or she observes the driver texting. The law will also increase penalties and jail time for anyone who causes an accident while texting.

Perhaps in light of recent mass transit accidents in which operators were texting while operating, the safe driving laws also prohibit operators of public transportation from using a mobile device while operating MBTA buses, ferries and school buses, although exceptions apply for emergency situations.

Special Rules for Older and Younger Drivers

Older and younger drivers also face new requirements under the safe driving laws. Drivers older than age 75 must now make in-person appointments to renew their drivers' licenses. Older drivers must also take a vision test every five years.

Drivers under 18 years old are banned from using a cell phone while driving for any reason. Violators face increasing fines ranging from a $100 fine and 60-day license suspension for a first offense to a $500 fine and a one-year license suspension for a third offense.

Finally, drivers who have been cited for three or more offenses within the last two years will have their licenses indefinitely suspended until their complete a drivers' re-training course.

Massachusetts Joins Other States in Fight Against Distracted Driving

While federal laws do not currently prohibit texting or cell phone use while driving, legislation has been proposed that would reduce federal funding to states that do not prohibit cell phone use. Distracted driving has become a major focus for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has launched a campaign against distracted driving along with the website www.Distraction.gov. He will host a summit on distracted driving in Washington, D.C. in September 2010.

Distracted driving has become a prominent legislative issue for both the federal government and the states. Massachusetts' new laws bring the state in line with many others that have taken action on this issue.