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AIA’s Alison Cooper Calls for More to be Done in Massachusetts to Curb Distracted Driving

More Must Be Done in Massachusetts to Curb Distracted Driving

By Alison Cooper
July 9, 2018

Massachusetts residents have made themselves clear: more needs to be done to keep our roads safe from distracted driving. Though the state has taken some positive steps in recent years, more than three-quarters of residents polled said that the state must ban the use of any hand-held electronic device while driving.

Currently, Massachusetts law bans texting and driving and requires all drivers under the age of 18 to drive hands-free. The Massachusetts Senate has recently passed legislation that would go a step further and put an end to the use of hand-held electronic devices for all drivers operating a motor vehicle, regardless of age.

Though an agreement has yet to be reached, we remain hopeful that policymakers will be able to come together on legislation to address the growing frequency and severity of distracted driving accidents, which could bring about significant public safety benefits for everyone on the road.

Experts believe the state’s rising driving death totals since 2013 are the result of more people driving while distracted. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 660,000 drivers use their cell phones while driving during the day. In 2015, an estimated 391,000 people were injured and 3,477 people were killed as a result.

Studies show that distracted drivers are 23 times more likely to get into an accident when compared to their non-distracted counterparts. Moreover, it is estimated that a quarter of all accidents are caused because of texting and driving, making it one of the most common causes in the country.

Not surprisingly, some may argue that texting isn’t really a problem because distracted driving extends beyond just cellphone use. To be fair, it is true that distracted driving can be broken down into three categories – manual, visual, and cognitive.

Manual distractions cause a driver to remove one or both hands from the wheel. Smoking, searching through bags, turning knobs in your car, and eating or drinking can be manual distractions. Visual distractions are anything that takes your eyes off the road like doing makeup or applying lotion, adjusting the GPS, or taking in the view around you. And cognitive distractions impair your mental focus. Holding conversations, emotions, road rage, and alcohol and drugs are considered cognitive distractions.

Texting falls under all three categories.

Each harbors its own types of risk, but all three are extremely dangerous and put other people on the roadways at risk. And even though features like Bluetooth and voice-command systems reduce your manual and visual distractions, they still occupy your mental focus.

Today, lawmakers in 15 states as well as the District of Columbia have passed smarter distracted driving laws. Massachusetts and Maine are the only states in New England that haven’t passed hands-free legislation. The positive results we’ve seen in these jurisdictions, as well as the endorsement of Governor Baker, should serve as the impetus for action in the Commonwealth.

Unfortunately, we can’t control what other drivers on the road do behind the wheel, but Massachusetts policymakers can certainly take steps to improve its status quo. It’s time for state lawmakers to work out their differences on the legislation and add Massachusetts to the list of hands-free states. Putting an end to the rising trend of traffic fatalities, and ultimately saving lives, can’t be delayed any longer.

Alison Cooper is the American Insurance Association's vice president of state affairs for the Northeast region.