MASSACHUSETTS IS A PIONEER with many civic, scientific and technological advancements, yet we lag behind many other states in creating safer roads. We must pass legislation to ban texting and driving this year.
Last year, Rhode Island and Georgia joined the growing number of states who have passed hands-free driving laws. That means four states in New England and 13 others ban the use of a hand-held cellphone while driving. This year, Governor Charlie Baker is recommending legislation to improve safety on the roads with a hands-free bill.
We need to make this the year that the Massachusetts Legislature finally passes a hands-free law. Laws like these do make a difference according to research published this week in the American Journal of Public Health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 people are killed every day as a result of distracted drivers. In Massachusetts, traffic deaths increased nearly 13 percent to 389 deaths in 2016 – more than double the national rate.
Another recent CDC analysis of the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 38 percent of teenagers nationwide text and drive. In Massachusetts, that number increases to 40 percent. While teenagers are the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes, many older drivers are texting behind the wheel, and we need to hold all our citizens accountable by passing this bill.
In 2010, Massachusetts took the step to ban texting while driving, but it has been difficult to enforce. A hands-free bill will expand on that by prohibiting distractions including dialing by hand, typing addresses into a GPS, video calling and using social media. All of which will contribute to making our roads safer.
While legislation remains a critical component towards eliminating deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving, we must also put efforts towards investing in education and technologies that help improve safe driving.
Back in 2010, Arbella Insurance Group’s claims staff started noticing a rise in the number of accidents resulting from distracted driving. The Arbella Insurance Foundation then created Distractology, a safe driving program, in an effort to educate new drivers on the dangers of taking their eyes off the road. For the past 9 years, our simulator has been traveling to high schools across New England, educating young, inexperienced drivers on the dangers of distracted driving. Our data from that program has shown that drivers who complete the training are 19 percent less likely to have an accident and 25 percent less likely to get traffic violations.
While the Arbella Insurance Foundation continues to work with new drivers, educators and parents to break drivers’ addictions to their phones and create a new generation of safe drivers who recognize the dangers distracted driving, we also continue to urge lawmakers to pass a more comprehensive bill.
As we look ahead to the 100 deadliest days of summer (particularly for teen drivers) we must be serious about making strides to keep Massachusetts roads and citizens safe. We must urge our lawmakers to make this the year we pass a hand-held cellphone driving ban.
John Donohue is the president and CEO of the Arbella Insurance Group and the head of the Arbella Insurance Foundation.