Beacon Hill on Hand Held Cell Phone Devices

By Bob Katzen 

The Senate approved on a voice vote, without a roll call, a measure (S 2092) that would prohibit drivers from using a hand-held cell phone or another device to make a call, use the device’s camera or access social media. The measure allows drivers to use only a hands-free phone. 
   Use of a hand-held phone would be permitted in emergencies including if the vehicle was disabled; medical attention or assistance was required; police, fire or other emergency services were necessary for someone’s personal safety; or a disabled vehicle or an accident was present on a roadway.
   Violators would be fined $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third and subsequent offense. A third offense would result in the violation being be considered a moving violation for purposes of the safe driver insurance plan. 
   Supporters said that the bill would save lives and prevent accidents. They noted that the measure does not ban cell phone use but simply requires the use of hands-free ones. They pointed to accidents, deaths and injuries involving hand-held cell phones.
   Some opponents said that the restriction is another example of government intrusion into people’s cars and lives. Others noted that there are already laws on the books prohibiting driving while distracted.

   Senate 12-26, rejected an amendment that would reduce the proposed fines for using a hand-held telephone. The fine for a first offense would be reduced from $100 to $50; a second offense from $250 to $100; and third and subsequent offenses from $500 to $150. The amendment also eliminates the part of the bill that makes a third offense a moving violation for purposes of the safe driver insurance plan.
   Amendment supporters said the fines are too high and discriminate against poor people who cannot afford them. They noted that research found 105 residents from three counties were jailed in 2015 because they couldn’t afford to pay fees and fines.
   Amendment opponents said the higher fines are reasonable and are designed to discourage drivers from breaking the law and putting lives at risk. They said that reducing the fines will result in more violations. 

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