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Distracted Driving Event, Weymouth, September 29, 2010vent 019 MassDOT and Public Safety officials remind Massachusetts drivers that new laws banning texting while driving and cell phone use while driving by 16 and 17 year old drivers go into effect at midnight Thursday, September 30.

MassDOT and Executive Office of Public Safety officials joined law enforcement, legislators and safety and injury prevention organizations and advocates in Weymouth today for a demonstration of the dangers of texting while driving and heard moving testimonials from victims of distracted driving.

“Driving while texting or using a cell phone carelessly is seriously unsafe,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “This law means police are going to take it seriously.”

Governor Patrick signed legislation 90 days ago that makes it illegal for all drivers to send or read an electronic message or access the Internet while operating a vehicle even while stopped in traffic. Junior operators 16 and 17 years old are also prohibited from using a cell phone, including those with hands free capabilities, at any time while driving. Teen drivers can make calls in an emergency but are urged to pull over and park first.

Under the new safe driving laws, law enforcement will be able to pull over any driver suspected of using a mobile electronic devise for texting or accessing the Internet. First time offenders are subject to a $100 fine. Junior operators observed using a cell phone can also be cited and subject to a $100 fine and the loss of their license for 60 days. Teen offenders will also be required to take a driver retraining course through the National Safety Council.

MassDOT Registry of Motor Vehicles is implementing the new laws and collaborating with the Highway Safety Division to inform drivers.  Watch for distracted driving messages posted on digital billboards, variable electronic message highway and turnpike signs; on posters and flyers for RMV branches, municipal airports, MBTA buses and trolleys, AAA of Southern New England offices, school nurses, pediatricians and injury prevention programs, along with MBTA platform announcements.

Last year, nearly 6,000 people were killed in crashes on U.S. roadways that were reported to have involved distracted driving. National Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is heading a national campaign to wipe out what he calls a growing epidemic. In Massachusetts, there were 400 crashes in 2008 where cell phones were reported to be a contributing factor.

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