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Massachusetts governor signs distracted driving bill

November 25, 2019 GMT

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts has joined every other New England state by barring drivers from using hand-held cellphones behind the wheel.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed the bill into law Monday. It takes in effect 90 days.

“Operators driving a car should not be holding a phone to text, check social media or email,” Baker said moments after signing the measure. “When a driver on an electronic device hits something or someone, that’s not an accident. That’s a crash that was avoidable.”

The law calls for a $100 fine for a first offense, $250 for a second offense, and $500 for subsequent offenses.

Drivers will still be allowed to use hands-free cellphones. Massachusetts already banned texting while driving.

The law also requires the Registry of Motor Vehicles to collect data from traffic stops, including the driver’s age, race and gender, without identifying the driver, to help identify police agencies that may be engaging in racial profiling.

Emily Stein, whose father was struck and killed by a distracted driver in 2011, hailed the new law even as she recalled others who have been killed by drivers looking at their cellphones.

“Time does not heal all the pain that distracted driving has caused our community,” said Stein, who pushed for the law. “But together we have been able to take steps to reduce that preventable pain.”

The law would still allow drivers to view maps generated by navigation systems as long as the electronic device is mounted on the car’s windshield or dashboard.

The legislation also states that a driver using a cellphone in response to an emergency can use evidence of the emergency — such as a disabled vehicle, accident or medical emergency — as an affirmative defense.

State lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the measure this month.

The law seeks to curb racial or gender profiling by requiring the collection of data from traffic stops — not just the race, age and gender of the driver, but also the date and time of the offense, the municipality where it occurred, whether there was a search as a result of the stop and whether it resulted in a warning, citation or arrest.

That information will be turned over to a university or nonprofit organization to be analyzed. The state must release a public report each year based on the data.

If a police agency is found to have engaged in racial or gender profiling, they would be required to gather more detailed traffic stop data and undergo implicit bias training.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia prohibit drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.