Banning hand-held cellphones, finally?

I continue to be shocked by the extreme road rage exhibited Friday on the Mass. Pike by Mark Paul Fitzgerald, 37, of Ashland, and Richard Kamrowski, a 65-year-old Framingham man . After a side-swiping encounter, after which SUV driver Fitzgerald refused to exchange information with Kamrowski, the older man grabbed a water bottle from Fitzgerald’s passenger seat and stood in front of the SUV to prevent his driving away.  When Fitzgerald kept driving forward, Kamrowski leaped on the hood of the SUV and hung on for more than two miles while Fitzgerald reportedly drove as fast as seventy miles per hour.  Only alert fellow motorists stopped the insanity from becoming tragedy.  Absurd behavior? Yes. Contemptible? That, too.

But I confess I taste a bit of road rage myself on the numerous occasions when I have been cut off by drivers using their hand-held cell phones. The woman ignoring the Yield sign, her view of my car obstructed because her left elbow was on the window edge and her hand held her cell phone to her left ear. A rapidly moving bakery truck that nearly ran me off the road in the same kind of situation. The young Natick man in an SUV who rear-ended my husband and me on Route 9 because, as he laughingly admitted, his eyes and hand were focused on his electronics.

To be sure, the issue is distracted driving more broadly: distractions like putting on lipstick, changing clothes, sipping hot coffee, checking the kids in the back seat, even consulting a GPS. But inability to eliminate all distractions shouldn’t keep us from controlling a few that would make a real difference in our safety.

Twice the state Senate has voted to ban hand-held cellphones. Twice it died in the House due to indifference or House Speaker Bob DeLeo’s concern that it would lead to racial profiling.

Would the police would pull over disproportionate numbers of minorities, using the ban to do more invasive searches for which there is no probable cause?  Three years ago, a Boston Globe analysis found minority status of drivers cited for texting while driving mirrored the state’s demographics.  Similar analyses could be required as part of a cellphone ban law.

Back then, Governor Charlies Baker was cool to the idea. Still the nation’s most popular governor, Charlie Baker now has finally decided to spend some of his political capital   for good but controversial causes. At the beginning of his second term, he proposes new taxes on real estate transfers, opioid manufacturers, and e-cigarettes. He commits to reshaping foundation funding for education. And, yes, he is pushing for a ban on hand-held cellphone use, something already implemented by 16 states and the District of Columbia. 

As Baker goes to the legislature today to testify for the bill, the Speaker remains to be persuaded. A February 2018 poll released by MassINC revealed that 79 percent of Massachusetts residents support a ban on the use of hand-held cell phones, with an exception for emergencies. Only 16 percent opposed.  To me, it’s a no-brainer. Drivers using hand-held cellphones are more than a prompt for road rage. They are a recipe for tragedy.

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