Attleboro area lawmakers concentrate on distracted drivers bill

Local legislators are getting behind a movement to restrict cellphone use to only hands-free devices while driving.

There are several bills on file in the Legislature that would impose the restriction, including one proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker last January.

Baker’s bill, however, would go further and allow police to pull over and ticket motorists who are not wearing seat belts.

Wearing a seat belt is already required by law but violators can only be ticketed if they are pulled over for another reason.

State Rep. Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, the ranking Republican on the Joint Transportation Committee, said he supports another bill, authored by Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett.

Straus is House chairman of the committee and Howitt said he expects the bill to be voted on some time this year. Eighteen states, plus Washington, D.C., have similar laws. Rhode Island adopted the ban last year.

Howitt said he drives back and forth to Boston for work and often sees other drivers distracted by such things as texting, putting on makeup, eating and even shaving.

A ban on hand-held cellphone use can only help, he said.

“They should be paying attention to the road and concentrating on the road rather than looking down,” he said.

State Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, said he believes the restriction should have passed years ago, adding that he is supporting a similar bill by Rep. Joseph Wagner, D-Chicopee.

Hawkins said he has been told the Legislature was reluctant to pass the restriction in the past because hands-free technology was expensive and the restriction would have hurt lower-income people.

Now, he said, the price has come down so the concerns have eased.

Most cars made since 2017 have Bluetooth technology which allows drivers to talk on the phone without picking up their phones.

State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, said he is looking for the right balance in a bill.

“In general I’m supportive of any laws that will minimize distracted driving, but I don’t want it to be overly onerous,” Dooley said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what gets cobbled together from the various bills and put forth into the House floor. Hopefully we will address it this term.”

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