When I was in high school, a truck crashed into my car, ripping it in half. My head smashed through the window. The impact launched the rear of the car around and the taillight bashed my head. Shattered glass was everywhere. I had so much blood in my eyes I thought I was blind. It took me over a year to recover.
The driver who hit me was using his phone. Just like the driver who hit and killed Merritt Levitan, 18, who was biking across the country. Just like the driver who hit and killed Howard Stein, 62, who was loading his truck. Just like the drivers who will kill 9 people today, tomorrow, and every day after driving distracted.
Distracted driving is legal in Massachusetts. Yes, the state outlawed texting and driving in 2010. But you can still dial your phone while driving and make handheld phone calls. Texting increases your chance of crashing 600%. Dialing a phone number increases your chance of crashing 1,200%. Making handheld phone calls increases your chance of crashing 220%. No matter how you use your phone, it takes a full 27 seconds to focus on driving again. Even at stop signs and stop lights.
Texting laws aren’t enough. They’re difficult to enforce. They’re ineffective. And they’re ambiguous – it’s hard to tell if someone is texting or dialing their phone.
Massachusetts can save lives with a hands-free law. The state senate has already passed its version of the hands-free bill. Governor Baker has endorsed hands-free legislation. Over 80% of MA residents support a hands-free law. Only the house is left. If Speaker DeLeo doesn’t bring H.3660 for a hands-free law to a vote by July 31, we go back to the drawing board. And we wait. Potentially another year.
In the meantime, every other state in New England – save Maine – has made their roads and citizens safer with hands-free laws. Rhode Island’s law went into effect June 1. Hands-free laws still allow drivers to make hands-free phone calls, use map apps for directions, and listen to music on Spotify. They just restrict the most dangerous activities while you drive. And, they make it easy for law enforcement to spot illegal activity.
Like drunk driving, distracted driving affects everyone who uses our roads. It doesn’t matter if you’re a long-haul trucker, a Lyft driver, a cyclist, or a kid walking to elementary school. No one is immune. No one is safe.
It starts with a choice. We all make it every time we drive. Do I pick up and use my phone while driving? Despite all the campaigns about distracted driving, many drivers still don’t think it’s dangerous. They have a fear of missing out, or FOMO, and severe separation anxiety. Some have an addiction. So they choose to pick up their phone.
Bill H.3660 will make that choice more difficult. Will it solve all our problems? No. But it will encourage us to change our behavior. It will encourage us to make the safe decision. And in the process, it will save lives.
People want safer roads. For themselves. For their kids. For their friends. That’s why hands-free legislation is so popular.
It also works.
Oregon’s handheld ban went into effect in October 2017. Since then, distracted driving has dropped 14%. Before the handheld bill, Oregon had a law against texting and driving. Just like Massachusetts. It wasn’t enough.
H.3660 deserves to be brought to a vote now. Families lose loved ones every day we wait. And distracted driving is getting worse. Speaker DeLeo can stop future tragedies by giving the people of Massachusetts a vote on what they want – a ban on cellphones while driving.
Brad Cordova is the co-founder of TrueMotion