Tax time in Massachusetts

It’s federal enforcement grant month in Massachusetts, and West Bridgewater police have taken to the texting ticketing task with unusual enthusiasm.

They ticketed over 50 people who didn’t remember the two simple rules of texting and driving:

  • Don’t text unless you are driving fast
  • Never admit anything

Police were on a congested road with a stop light, looking at slow-moving or stopped traffic to see exactly what drivers were doing with their phones.

In Massachusetts you can use your phone while driving, with one notable exception. You can’t send or read an electronic message. You can type a memo to yourself to be saved on your phone, but you can’t type the same words if they are meant to be a text message. You can type a phone number, but you can’t use voice to text to compose an email. The law applies even when stopped.

I should say, the law applies especially when stopped. Judges made it very hard to enforce a similar Indiana law against moving drivers.

It’s an emotion-driven, counterproductive law, because it encourages risky behavior. If you text while stopped, you get a ticket. If you text while driving fast, you don’t.

One study blamed anti-cell phone laws for an increase in crashes. A phone in your lap hidden from police is much more likely to distract you from driving, but much less likely to earn you a ticket.

How do they prove you were using a phone illegally, without watching the screen as you type? If you had an accident, they might subpoena your phone records. One driver illegally distracted by texting recently got caught by another driver legally distracted by shooting a cell phone video.

If you just moved your hands oddly… they can ask. “Were you obeying General Laws Chapter 90 Section 13B back there?”

Remember Ghostbusters? “When someone asks you if you’re a god, you say yes.” Actually, 1980s comedies may not be the best life guides: it’s a felony to lie to police, even if you just deny being a criminal. But you’re not obliged to confess.

These stings are mostly a tax on people who can’t think fast.

Yes, just a tax. Massachusetts law prohibits “points” on your license for texting while driving. If you can afford a new iPhone, text away. If you’re poor, you lose your license when you can’t pay the fine.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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