House passes driving legislation

The House took action today on its own version of a driving safety bill. The House version still needs to be reconciled with the Senate version.

Although there were many amendments offered, the House seemed eager to make progress on the issue.

The bill basically takes modest steps on two issues — distracted driving and driver competence.

As initially presented on the floor, the bill banned texting for all drivers and banned all cell phone use by drivers of buses and other public transit vehicles. It also banned all cell phone use by junior operators. By a vote of 91 to 66 the House approved an amendment banning all cell phone use other than hands-free devices for all drivers. I supported this amendment.

Penalties for adults include fines with impact on insurance rates; junior operators face license suspensions. Additionally, if a driver has an accident while using a prohibited device they will be deemed reckless and face additional penalties.

As to driver competence, it will require persons over 75 to renew their licenses in person (otherwise required for all drivers only every 10 years) and take a vision test. Additionally, the bill encourages physicians and other care givers to report drivers whose driving skills appear compromised. They are protected from liability for making reports (and for not making reports).

I was pleased to support this legislation.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

12 replies on “House passes driving legislation”

  1. I completely agree about texting and cell phone use while driving – it is becoming a real hazard on the road.
    I completely disagree about doctors and health professionals turning people in. It will have unintended consequences. Some people will be afraid to see their doctor. And who are “other care givers” and what are their qualifications? And what about federal law that protects patient privacy? This is a really bad idea. As an aging person, I object and resent this. My mother is 89, and I would let her drive me anywhere. There are some 35-yr-olds that I will not get in the car with. Please reconsider this.

    1. The rules about reporting of possibly incompetent drivers apply to persons of all ages, not just seniors! The change is actually very modest. The registry already has two bureaus (one medically oriented and one with a more general competence charge) responsible for reviewing the competence of drivers if facts raising concern come to their attention.

      The main effect of the changes is to make clear that health care providers will not be liable for raising concerns in good faith. There is no mandate that they report and they are, in fact, insulated from liability for failing to report.

  2. Hands-free devices aren’t really enough to ensure safety. I believe there were studies a number of years ago that showed that a significant part of the distraction is talking with someone who’s *remote*. A remote person can’t tell what you’re seeing or doing, and can’t respond (by being quiet, for example) the way someone present in the car can.

    Certainly, driving with a phone in your hand, or cradled on your shoulder is a problem. But so is driving with a donut in your hand.

    Do you know if anyone in the legislature looked into this? Do other states that ban hands-on phone use see improvements in safety?

    — hs

    1. I agree that requiring hands-free phones is not enough. I actually sponsored an amendment to ban cell phone use while driving out right last year. But it drew no support — most of us want to make calls while driving from time to time. It’s about as far as we could get.

      1. I understand that, but it’s sort of ironic. “It’s dangerous, but we all want to do it, so we’ll allow it.”

        Would texting be prohibited whenever one was behind the wheel, including stopped at a light?

  3. Evidence has proved that distracted driving is dangerous, whether by hand-held or hands-free cell, concentration on gauges or other electronic devices. I have personally witnessed much bad driving- some narrow misses – resulting from these behaviors. So I support banning all cellphone and computer use by drivers, no matter what age. This legislation is long overdue.

    I personally have never experienced a near miss from someone eating a donut!

    Age-related issues: Douglas Reynolds brings up an important point. After an elder is reported, what is the process? Is the license automatically suspended? There should be a board which reviews anonymous tips and allows the accused to attend and to rebut.
    Otherwise, it’s a great idea to require elders to appear periodically in person and to take a vision and perhaps a written (for driving skills and general comprehension) test. (At that time, they might also be assessed for serious physical impairments to driving.)

  4. Go for it house and Senate!

    To the first commenter who said that the 89 year old drives better than the 35 year old, I completely agree. However, someday every one of us will no longer be a good driver. That may be 35 or 89 or 99. The law is rightfully moving to test folks regularly and insure they are good drivers as time passes.

  5. Banning cell-phone use while driving is long overdue.
    The specification of an age for re-testing drivers is, in my opinion, arbitrary and prejudicial. Seems to me ALL drivers need to be re-tested at regular intervals, eg., every 5 years.

    1. All drivers do take a vision test when they appear in person at the registry. Everyone has to appear in person every 10 years. The only difference would now be that over 75 people have to appear in person every 5 years instead of every 10 years. I think that given the vision problems that often emerge with advancing age, this is a modest and fair requirement; it protects the driver as well others.

  6. You don’t have to dig very far to find a ton of evidence of the impacts of aging on reflexes, vision, cognitive abilities, etc. These are all things that directly impact your ability to drive. Are there younger drivers who may be just as hazardous? Sure… that’s why they pay a lot more in insurance. But statistically, if I looked at 100 30-year olds, probably 97 of them are okay to drive. Perhaps they are maniacs behind the wheel, but at least they physically can drive.. I’ll rely upon the police officers to catch them if they are hazards. If I tested 100 75-year olds, I bet I’d find at least 30 that are unable to drive safely in all conditions (yes, at night, in rain, you can’t issue a license only for those sunny days) and if I tested that same group at 80, I bet 40-45 would be unsafe to drive. That’s too big a risk to ignore.. and there are too many injured and dead people in the past few years to take this issue lightly as the baby boomers begin to more into their senior years.

    To say that at 75, we can’t even ask for some additional testing, is ridiculous. To ask a doctor to turn someone in, frankly, is political cowardice – doctors won’t do it unless someone is a medical disaster. And if they did, patients would avoid medical care out of fear.

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