Massachusetts police won a victory over drivers recently with passage of a law banning touching electronic devices while sitting in the driver’s seat. Police had been frustrated by their inability to write tickets for disallowed types of phone use. They mostly caught drivers who were stopped and so oblivious they couldn’t see the police officer looking in the window. That’s because it was illegal to send a text message but not illegal to adjust your music while stopped at a light.
So they made it illegal to adjust your music while stopped at a light. Can’t have people beating tickets just because they didn’t do anything wrong. Here’s what you can and can not do in Massachusetts effective this week.
You can not touch your phone to pause music but you can touch it to activate voice controls.
You can navigate the maliciously distracting, intentionally phonelike touchscreen interface of your Cadillac CUE infotainment system. You can not navigate a simpler interface on a phone attached securely to your dashboard.
You can not pull over and pick up your phone make a call unless you are outside the edge line. You can step out of your car to make a call. On limited access highways you’re not supposed to, but pedestrian on a highway doesn’t go on your driving record.
You can not hold your phone to your ear to listen while stopped, but you can hold your phone in your lap to compose a text message while driving down the Mass Pike. Check surrounding traffic first. State Police drive SUVs and can look down into smaller cars.
Maybe you’re technically not supposed to do the second one, just like you’re not supposed to drive 66 miles per hour. In reality, you won’t get a ticket for the second and you will for the first.
This law creates perverse incentives. You can avoid tickets by driving more dangerously. When anti-phone laws were new a study suggested drivers did exactly that. The law made roads more dangerous because people were taking their eyes off the road to look at hidden phones.
But anti-phone laws give police something to do, and that’s what’s important in America.
By the way, police are exempt from the hands-free law. One law for us, another law for them.
Continuing on the us-vs-them theme, a followup to an old Massachusetts story. In 2016 David Njuguna hit and killed a State Police officer running a speed trap, a member of the infamous Troop E. I predicted he would get five years, in contrast to State Police officer John Balser who got 120 days for a double DUI homicide. His trial was last fall. I was right. The judge ruled there was insufficient proof the driver was under the influence of drugs. Then she sentenced the driver as if he was, five to seven years. That was a legal sentence. But if you had taken the uniform off Officer Balser and put it on Mr. Njuguna the sentences would have been reversed.
Good luck driving in Massachusetts this spring. You’ll need it.
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