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Fewer Distracted Driving Accidents in Massachusetts Could Result from National Distracted Driving Law

The federal government may soon act to create a nationwide law aimed at reducing the risk of distracted driving. As we frequently report, distracted driving has become a leading cause of car accidents in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the United States.

Our Boston personal Injury lawyers have applauded state action; as the Governor’s Highway Safety Association reports, Massachusetts is among more than 30 states that have banned text messaging by all drivers. However, hand-held cell phone use continues to be legal and drivers routinely ignore even the text-messaging portion of the law. Complicating matters is the fact that millions of tourists visit Massachusetts each year and are typically unfamiliar with the law. Replacing the patchwork of laws in place nationwide with a federal ban will provide continuity and should add some teeth to enforcement efforts.
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Auto Trend reports Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-NY, has introduced legislation that would federalize cell phone use by drivers. The proposal would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to set a national standard, which would prohibit hand-held cell phone use by drivers unless there was an emergency.

“Driving while making a phone call, texting or using apps can be as dangerous as driving drunk, and much more common,” Rep. McCarthy said. “With some basic commonsense rules that are already in place in some parts of the country, we can reduce injuries and save lives in America.”

Voice-operated and vehicle-integrated services would be excluded. Supporters acknowledge the cognitive distraction posed even by hands-free devices but say eliminating the manual distraction of hand-held devices is an important step in the right direction.

The bill would also require the feds to conduct a study on the issue of distracted driving, particularly as it relates to cognitive distraction and the impact on young, inexperienced drivers. The report would be due to Congress within two years and would make recommendations regarding minimum distracted driving laws and the associated penalties. States would have two years to comply or risk losing 25 percent of their highway funding. It’s the same tactic the feds have used to bring all states into compliance with the nationwide limit of .08 for drunk driving. Withholding highway funding was also used to gain compliance with the nationwide 55 mph speed limit, which was repealed in the 1990s.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 5,474 people were killed in distracted driving crashes in 2009 — representing about 1 in 6 traffic fatalities.

If you have been injured in a Boston accident, contact Massachusetts Injury Attorney Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment to discuss your rights. Call 877-617-5333.

Safe Drivers Act of 2011 Introduced to Congress, by Matt Keegan, AutoTrends Magazine.