BOSTON (AP/CBS) — The Massachusetts House of Representatives has approved legislation that would bar motorists from using hand-held cellphones while behind the wheel.
The proposal approved on a 155-2 vote Wednesday would also require the state to study the feasibility of collecting racial data during all traffic stops to guard against racial profiling by police.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo described the bill that is expected to come up for a vote Wednesday as an important public safety measure that would help reduce deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving.
“I think there was a very, very strong feeling of the members of the House that this is something that we should be doing,” DeLeo said.
Motorists could still use their cellphones with hands-free technology, but could face fines of up to $500 if pulled over for holding a cellphone. GPS would still be allowed only if it’s attached to the windshield or part or the car’s system and only requires a swipe or tap.
Concerns have been raised that a cellphone law might lead to more racial profiling by police in traffic stops.
“The ACLU is appreciative that House leadership included racial profiling data collection in the hands-free driving bill, but we are concerned that it does not include data collection for all stops,” said Rahsaan Hall of the ACLU.
For Jerry Cibley, the issue is deeply personal. He lost his son to distracted driving. “It seems that he had dropped his phone, it was a flip phone, clamshell style,” Cibley said. “He had taken his seat-belt off to retrieve it, and he slammed into a tree at 30 miles an hour.”
After 12 years, he says it’s time to make a change. “This is a bill that is so important to pass,” Cibley said. “We are saving lives with this.”
Richard Levitan’s daughter Merritt was 18-years-old when she was struck by a distracted driver in July of 2013. “I’m trying to hold it together, yeah, it’s super emotional,” Levitan said after the vote.
She was in Arkansas and 1,000 miles into a cross country cycling trip.
“My daughter was unfortunately severely injured, brain trauma she was flown to a trauma center in Memphis,” Levitan said. “We said goodbye to her about 24 hours later.”
Levitan says he’ll be at the State House until this bill goes to Governor Baker’s desk and becomes law. “We’re passionate about it for obvious reasons and it’s what Merritt would be doing if she had the opportunity to do it herself,” Levitan said.
The Senate is expected to debate a similar bill next month.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)