Across America, distracted driving has become an epidemic among operators of motor vehicles. Crossing boundaries of gender and age, distracted driving seems to have become a way of life for many. However, that way of life too often proves deadly. Massachusetts resident Jerry Cibley knows this all too well.
In 2007, Cibley’s son, Jordan, was talking on his cellphone while driving. He inadvertently dropped the phone mid-conversation, and while reaching to pick it up, he lost control of his vehicle. The crash was fatal. And on the other end of the phone, his dad. Since the accident, Cibley has been diligently pushing for the state to pass a hands-free restriction prohibiting drivers from using handheld devices.
In 2010, Massachusetts joined the ranks of states that ban texting and other Internet-related activities while driving. Since then about 3,500 individuals have been cited for violating the anti-texting law. Of that number, about half of those cited had been involved in an injury-causing crash.
Critics of the Massachusetts law believe the low citation numbers reveal a critical problem with the law: it is unenforceable and ineffective. “If you want to get real about this,” said state Senator Steven Baddour in a WCVB TV report, “the debate needs to be about banning cellphones altogether.” Cibley agrees. In the same news report, Cibley stated, “our current laws are miserable failures because we’ve not been able to enforce them in an appropriate manner.”
Cibley and fellow critics now believe the current law must be taken to a new level: banning the use of handheld devices while driving. Lawmakers have heard the concerns, and now many legislators are supporting a handheld cellphone bill that would require drivers to use hands-free devices. Further, Governor Deval Patrick, who signed the 2010 text messaging law, may be open to signing the new ban should it make it that far.
Not everyone is on board with the idea of a blanket ban on handheld devices. Some believe devices are not the problem; rather, inattentive drivers are the cause of distracted driving accidents. These individuals support the implementation of education over legislation or the enactment of a complete ban.
The proposed ban on handheld devices was approved by the State Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation at the end of January. It is expected to clear the House but may face challenges in the Senate.
The Federal government has also been working to educate drivers about the risks of texting and other distracted driving behaviors through programs and through a website for distracted driving, Distraction.gov. Most recently, however, Federal agencies have begun supporting the total ban idea.
In December 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called for the first nationwide ban on using portable electronic devices while driving. According to Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman, it is about time. In an NTSB press release, Hersman said: “it’s time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving.”
A grieving Massachusetts father couldn’t agree with the NTSB more. “It is about saving lives,” said Cibley in the WCVB TV news report. “If we can save one life, then we’ve done well.”