April Baker admits she often texts her friends while driving, even though the habit has caused her to nearly crash into other vehicles in front of her on a few occasions.
But Baker says she working to break her texting habit because of a new state law banning the practice that goes into effect Thursday.
“I am trying to put my phone in my bag so it is not visible and I cannot reach it,” said Baker, 23, a student from Hamilton. “I also put it on silent so I can’t hear it.”
Baker and other Massachusetts drivers who are caught texting while driving will face fines ranging from $100 for a first offense and up to $500 for repeat offenses. Massachusetts is the 30th state in the nation to introduce a texting ban as more states have decided to crack down on distracted driving.
The new law also prohibits scanning the Internet on a phone or mobile device while driving and bans anyone under 18 from talking on a cell phone while driving.
Police will be able to pull over drivers they see texting, but the offense would not be considered a moving violation subject to an insurance surcharge.
Click here to read the specifics of the new law.
The American Automobile Association and Registry of Motor Vehicles are actively working to encourage drivers like Baker to stop their texting habits.
AAA has produced two public service announcements to air across the state and is sending e-mails about the new law to all of its more than 2 million members in Massachusetts.
The motor club suggests putting phones in glove compartments, purses, backpacks, or even trunks, to make them difficult to reach while driving.
“If you can’t hear the phone buzzing or see it ringing, there is not as great a temptation to respond,” said Mary Maguire, a spokeswoman for AAA Southern New England.
Maguire calls texting a “triple threat” because it takes a driver’s hands off the wheel, takes their eyes off the road, and focuses their minds elsewhere.
“It only takes a couple of seconds to send a text message and that is the couple of seconds that can alter your life, the lives of your passengers and the lives of other drivers on the road,” she said.
WBZ’s Bernice Corpuz explains the new law
The RMV has issued warnings to drivers about texting via eight large digital billboards on highways across the state and has also posted reminders about the new law on electronic road signs. Posters are also being put up at RMV branches and MBTA stations.
“We want people to know the reason for this is public safety,” said RMV spokeswoman Ann Dufresne. “Distracted driving is dangerous behavior and leads to injury and death.”
Police are also preparing to start implementing the new law, but some law enforcement officials say the texting ban will be challenging to enforce.
Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, said officers may have to seek proof from phone companies to prosecute a driver for texting.
“That is not a reasonable option for the every day violation,” he said.
He expects officers will only pursue that avenue for serious personal injury or homicide cases.
But David Procopio, a spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police, expressed confidence that officers will be able to go after offenders. He says officers will be sent a one-page advisory about the new law and there may be an online training course designed in the near future that officers could be required to take.
“The law is pretty straightforward and does not require extensive training,” he said.
Hala Hazar, 32, of Boston, who works in health care, said her new touch-screen mobile phone has helped wean her off her texting habit, so she is not worried about being pulled over.
“It is too hard with the new touch phones to text while driving because it requires too much concentration,” Hazar said.