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Massachusetts Lawmakers Consider New Driving Legislation

Two serious crashes in Massachusetts in the past year have resulted in a push for new safe driving bills in the state legislature.

Comprehensive driver responsibility legislation passed by the Massachusetts House and Senate is set for reconciliation by a House-Senate conference committee before making its way to Gov. Patrick’s desk for signature.

Elderly Driver Screening

One of the most controversial provisions of the Massachusetts safe driving bill requires regular cognitive and physical screenings for all drivers over age 75. Rep. Gale Canderas (D-Wilbraham) characterized the senior testing provisions as “age discrimination,” according to the Boston Herald. Democratic Sen. Brian Joyce disagreed. He said they reflect common sense, telling the Herald, “It is irrefutable that as we age, some of our skills diminish.”

The Senate version of the bill would require testing every three years once a driver reaches the age of 80. The push for screenings for elderly drivers stems in part from a June crash in which an 88-year-old driver killed a 4-year-old using a crosswalk with her grandfather.

Texting Ban

Both the House and Senate versions of the safe driving bill ban texting while driving. The penalties for violation now set at $50 would increase to $100 for a first offense and $500 for second and third offenses. When texting contributes to a crash, the fine would be enhanced and the driver would be subject to a two-year jail sentence. The Senate bill would make texting a primary offense, allowing a police officer to stop a driver solely for texting.

The need for a texting ban with teeth in Massachusetts was highlighted by a February crash that sent 60-year-old pedestrian Geraldine Falvaro 20 feet into the air, resulting in a head wound, broken leg and nerve damage, among other injuries. The driver who struck Falvaro, 27-year-old Hilary Mitchell, was texting at the time of the crash. Mitchell was ticketed for impeded driving and fined a mere $50, the maximum allowed under existing Massachusetts law.

Cell Phone Bans

A ban on hand-held cell phones passed the House, but the Senate version removed the ban and later rejected an amendment that would have restored it. Sen. Steve Baddour told the Herald the proposed hands-held cell phone ban was a feel-good law that would have little practical effect on public safety.

The House bill includes a ban on any cell phone use by drivers 18 and under, while the Senate version does not contain a similar provision.

The bills also contain provisions pertinent to the operation of the Registry of Motor Vehicles.