Because Massachusetts and national media have been focused for much of the year on the coronavirus pandemic, some important news stories have not received the attention they might have otherwise. One such item is the distracted driving law that went into effect statewide in late February.
In order to try to reduce the number of motor vehicle accidents caused by distracted drivers, Massachusetts now forbids drivers from using their using their phones, unless they’re using hands-free technology.
Put the phone down
When he signed the law last November, Gov. Charlie Baker said, “operators driving a car should not be holding a phone to text, check social media or email.”
While there is research aplenty on the dangers of distracted driving, a study recently published in the journal “Pediatrics” will hit home for parents of young drivers. The authors of “Distracted Driving Laws and Motor Vehicle Crash Fatalities” note that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among those who are 16 to 24 years old in the U.S.
Dangers are biggest for this group
They point out that it’s known that distracted driving increases the risks of crashes for all drivers, but especially among the youngest.
The researchers analyzed U.S. crashes involving drivers and passengers ages 16 to 19 from 2007 to 2017 while tracking the locations of the crashes and the types and strengths of distracted driving laws where the wrecks occurred.
They found that there were 38,215 drivers ages 16 to 19 in fatal crashes during those years, with highest incidence among 19-year-olds and the lowest among 16-year-olds.
States with primary enforced texting bans had lower crash fatality rates involving drivers ages 16 to 19. (Massachusetts has primary enforcement, which means police can stop you if you’re seen violating our state’s distracted driving laws.)
The study’s authors said that bans on handheld devices (like the one that went into effect in February) “are associated with the greatest decrease in fatal” motor vehicle crashes.
The message is unmistakable: distracted driving laws work. The measures save lives across all age groups, and are most effective among the youngest drivers on our roads.
When Massachusetts banned driver texting back in 2010, police officers found it difficult to enforce because they often couldn’t tell if a driver was texting or making a call. It’s now clear that all Massachusetts drivers are forbidden from holding a phone for any reason.