The Massachusetts Senate is considering a bill that would require drivers to put down their cellphones while behind the wheel.
Under the measure scheduled for debate on Thursday, motorists would only be allowed to use their cellphones, or other electronic devices such as GPSs, in hands-free mode.
It also would be illegal to access social media, make video calls or use any camera function while driving.
The proposal would allow for a single touch or swipe to activate a hands-free mechanism. Exceptions also would be made for certain emergency calls.
The bill aims to reduce one of the leading causes of distracted driving, which according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claimed nearly 3,500 lives in the U.S. in 2015. The agency estimates that at any given moment during daylight hours, more than 800,000 vehicles are being operated by a motorist who also is using a hand-held cellphone.
Texting while driving already is illegal in Massachusetts, as is all cellphone use by drivers under the age of 18.
Fourteen states, including neighboring Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, ban the use of hand-held cellphones by motorists. A proposed ban has been passed by the Legislature in Maine, but it’s unclear if Republican Gov. Paul LePage will sign it.
All but a handful of U.S. states ban texting while driving.
Similar legislation was approved by the Massachusetts Senate during the last two-year session of the Legislature, but never came up for a final vote in the House.
Opponents say it’s up to drivers to take personal responsibility to ensure that cellphone conversations aren’t taking their attention off the road.
Under the bill, drivers would be fined $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third offense. A third violation also would result in an automobile insurance surcharge.
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