US: Massachusetts to ban smartphone navigation

Gov. Deval L. Patrick on Friday signed a bill that bans texting while driving, prohibits drivers younger than 18 from using a cell phone, and orders more frequent eye exams for certain elderly drivers.

Patrick said the ban on texting while driving sends an important message, particularly to younger people such as his two daughters.

Patrick signed the bill on a table with black and yellow bumper stickers that read, “Drive Now, Text Later.”

“This bill, by banning texting while driving, is a big step in the right direction,” the governor said.

The state House of Representatives and the state Senate voted final approval of the bill last week.

All the provisions in the bill take effect in 90 days, or in early October.

The texting ban includes electronic mail, instant or text messages, accessing the Internet and other activities that don’t have to do with calls on a phone, pager, laptop, or hand held electronic device by all drivers. It also applies to drivers who are stopped at traffic lights or stop signs.

Rep. Joseph F. Wagner, D-Chicopee, said people can still use a GPS while driving, but not if the GPS application is on a phone. People won’t be allowed to use a phone to go on the Internet and search for maps, Wagner said.

Wagner, the co-chairman of the Transportation Committee, said he believes it will be difficult for police to enforce the texting ban since adult drivers can still hold a cell phone and talk while driving.

The state House of Representatives had voted to ban adult drivers from holding cell phones while driving, allowing only the use of “hands free” technology. But over the objections of Wagner, that provision was dropped from the final bill.

Wagner said the bill contains some steep penalties that put some teeth into the law and should deter people from texting while driving. Drivers 18 and older would face $100 fine for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third or subsequent offense. It would not be considered a moving violation, meaning there would not be a surcharge on an insurance bill. The offense will be primary. Police can pull over a driver just for texting.

“I’m very pleased with the bill,” said Wagner, who did not attend the press conference because of a family engagement.

Massachusetts would join 28 other states, plus the District of Columbia, in outlawing texting for all motorists, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va. Under the bill, 16- and 17-year-olds are banned from using a cell phone while driving in any way including with “hands free” technology.

The use of all cell phones by novice drivers is currently restricted in 28 states and the District of Columbia, according to the institute.

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