Strengthening Public Health and Safety ~ IN YOUR CORNER WITH KATY IVES

By: State Senator Katy Ives – Oct. 2016

On July 31, the formal legislative session technically ended, meaning that between August and January, no formal voting on major bills takes place. In the months leading up to the beginning of a new formal session in January, I’m focusing in on what bills are priorities for me to file, re-file and advocate for in the upcoming legislative session. My column over these next months will focus on those bills.

In this edition, I want to highlight two pieces of legislation that were passed by the Senate last session which I believe would provide critical public health and safety protections to residents in Massachusetts.

The first is “An Act to Protect Youth from the Health Risks of Tobacco and Nicotine Addiction,” which would prohibit the sale of tobacco products, including electronic cigarette products, to any individual under the age of 21. One-hundred cities and towns across the Commonwealth have already raised the minimum legal sale age of tobacco to 21 and have seen positive results in terms of youth prevention.
The bill also prohibits health care institutions, including retail establishments that sell pharmaceutical goods, from selling tobacco products. CVS Pharmacy voluntarily implemented a similar no-tobacco policy in their stores in September 2014.

Last session, the State Senate also passed an important piece of legislation which aimed to reduce motor vehicle accidents and fatalities by prohibiting the use of hand-held electronic mobile devices while operating a motor vehicle.

The bill, “An Act to Prohibit the Use of Mobile Telephones while Operating a Motor Vehicle,” responds to the concerns of law enforcement officials over the difficulty of enforcing the texting ban implemented in September 2010. While the 2010 law prohibits drivers from composing, sending, or reading text messages, the handling of mobile devices was banned outright only for individuals under the age of 18.

The technological capabilities of cell phones have given drivers more opportunities to become distracted at the wheel. Sending a text message or typing a destination in a GPS, multiplied by several times on a highway, quickly becomes a public safety issue.

Five seconds is the average time a driver’s eyes are taken off the road while reading or sending a text message. At 55 mph, those five seconds are enough to cover the length of a football field. The result has been an estimated one million motor vehicle accidents and 3,000 fatalities a year caused by distracted driving.

The bill would ban the use of hand-held mobile electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle unless the devices are used in hands-free mode. It further prohibits drivers from touching or holding a mobile electronic device except to activate, deactivate, or initiate a feature or function. This prohibition includes accessing the internet to compose, send, or read an electronic message or to input information by hand into a global positioning system or navigation device while operating a motor vehicle.

First offenders would be issued a $100 fine, a second offense would be a fine of $250, and a third offense would be a $500 fine and would be considered a moving violation and surchargeable event for auto insurance purposes.
Fourteen other states and the District of Columbia prohibit drivers from using handheld mobile devices, including New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Vermont.

These two bills would provide important updates to the Commonwealth’s public health and safety laws. Massachusetts has fallen behind other states and individual communities in the region that have already enacted similar life-saving measures. If residents are interested in advancing these bills in the next, two-year legislative session, I would encourage them to strongly advocate for their passage to their elected legislators and to closely monitor the bills’ progress through the legislative process.

Senator O’Connor Ives can be reached at KATHLEEN.OCONNORIVES@MASENATE.GOV