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Police: Texting while driving ban tough to enforce

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WBZ-TV File

WAKEFIELD (WBZ) — It’s been two weeks since the state’s new texting ban went into effect, and police in many cities and towns say they’ve yet to issue any citations because the law is difficult to enforce. 

In Wakefield, Sgt. Kevin McCaul says enforcement is part of his routine patrol, but it’s difficult to actually see drivers texting. 

“If a car is approaching I’m only going to get a look at the operator for a brief second or two,” he said. 

He looks for telltale signs on the road. 

“The first car stopped at the red light.  I saw him look down, and he looked back up at the light,” said Sgt. McCaul. 

But he says suspicion of texting is not enough, a driver would have to be holding the phone near the top of the steering wheel and pressing on the keyboard. 

Drivers observed by WBZ-TV were more discreet, holding the phone near their lap. 

The town of Wakefield has yet to issue citations for texting behind the wheel, a source of frustration says police chief Rick Smith because the department wants to be proactive, and not wait for an accident to happen. 

“We want to make a stop and do an education piece before we get to an accident,” said Chief Smith. 

Part of what makes the law unenforceable, he says, is that officers can’t require a driver to hand over the cell phone. 

“We would like to be able to take possession of the phone and look at that phone on site, and then it would be more enforceable. Officers would need a subpoena or search warrant affidavit to look at phone records and prove that a driver was texting.  It’s all time consuming, and time is money,” said Chief Smith. 

Under the new Massachusetts law the first violation is $100, the second is $250. 

For drivers younger than 18, the use of all mobile devices is banned while driving.  The first offense for junior operators is a $100 fine and 60-day license suspension. 

Chief Smith says it’s an important law to make the roadways safer, but hopes the legislature will take another look and give it more teeth.

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