On May 13, 2007, Foxboro businessman Jerry Cibley was on the phone with his son Jordan when the 18-year-old suddenly crashed into a tree and was killed.
Since then, Cibley has been on a campaign to end distracted driving not only in Massachusetts but across the country. He’s appeared on TV programs such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to halt the growing problem.
“I talk to children all of the time,” Cibley said on one show. “I talk to teens. I talk to parents. I tell them my story and I say, ‘Look at me. I died on May 13, 2007, along with my child.’”
There’s been a growing consensus that distracted driving — particularly, texting or dialing — is wrong and should be legislated against. Sixteen states have already done so, with Rhode Island the latest to join the list.
There is no public opposition to a ban in this state. Earlier this year, a poll found that 80 percent of Massachusetts registered voters support banning hand-held mobile devices while operating vehicles.
The Massachusetts Senate also agrees, passing just such a ban a year ago. The legislation requires motorists to use a Bluetooth or hands-free device for voice calling while driving, or else face potential fines as high as $500 for using a hand-held phone behind the wheel. (The bill would make an exception for emergencies.)
The bill, however, languishes in the Massachusetts House. The biggest objection comes from state Rep. Byron Rushing, a Boston Democrat who is part of the House leadership. He won’t support the bill without a provision to make sure it won’t result in increased traffic stops of black and Hispanic drivers.
However, the Senate version already addresses that concern, requiring data on traffic stops to be collected to measure any racial profiling.
We support the Senate legislation and all efforts to reduce distracted driving.
Drivers can help the cause. For instance, iPhones currently offer a setting to limit their use while driving. The mode, which is optional, locks the phone screen and sends automatic text responses that the user is driving.
Technology companies could also help by making that the default setting on all smartphones, instead of an opt-in offering.
This law is necessary for Massachusetts. A national study earlier this year found that the Bay State had the 10th highest rate of distracted driving and that fatal crashes spike between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when younger drivers are more likely to be behind the wheel.
The House should not throw out the baby with the bath water. Listen to your constituents. Listen to Jerry Cibley.
Make Massachusetts safer by banning hand-held devices while driving.