Enforcing the Anti-Text Law in Massachusetts

Everyone knows that it is illegal to text and drive. We hop in our car, we are pressed for time, and we pick up that phone anyway. There are people, however, who have found a loophole in the law that bans texting and driving. When one of these people get pulled over, the police officer may say, “Do you know why I pulled you over? You were texting on your phone.” The driver, well aware of the law against texting while operating a motor vehicle, quickly responds “No, officer, you must be mistaken. I was using the Maps application on my phone.” Unbeknownst to some drivers in Massachusetts, using your smartphone while driving is not illegal entirely but it is illegal to text. The specificity of this law has irked law enforcement as it is difficult for police officers to enforce this law.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) announced this week their approval of a grant of $550,000 for police departments in Connecticut and Massachusetts to test other another of enforcing the anti-texting laws – by spying on drivers. NHTSA chief, David Strickland, claims that the purpose of this grant is to find “real-world protocols and practices to better detect if a person is texting while driving.” This grant will fund “spotters on overpasses” as well as other roadways to find out if drivers are typing while they are operating their vehicle. Spying on motorists has already shown to work in North Dakota, where 31 tickets were issued in a matter of 2 days after police spied on drivers from unmarked vehicles.

The Anti-Text Campaign

Other places are trying to be more proactive by creating campaigns to discourage people, particularly teenagers, to not type and drive. For instance, the University of Massachusetts police officers on the Community Outreach team have been running their own campaign “with the hope of educating students and raising public awareness of the pressing, but often overlooked issue [of texting].” These officers also maintain an active presence on campus, particularly in places they have identified to more likely have students who text and drive. These students, if caught, can face a $100 fine for a first time offense and a $250 fine for the second.

Texting and driving is a form of distracted driving that causes many unnecessary injuries and deaths to drivers, passengers, and innocent bystanders every year. The attention that this issue is receiving from the NHTSA as well as law enforcement is indicative of the severity of the problem.

UMPD Works to Decrease Texting and Driving, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, October 19, 2012
Police to Spy on Drivers Suspected of Texting in Federal Text, Yahoo! Autos, October 18, 2012

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