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Look Up and Drive

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

In recent months, both the Massachusetts House and Senate have passed bills that would ban texting while driving. Those bills, however, have languished in a conference committee ever since—prompting some communities to pass their own local texting bans, including Boston, Brookline, Danvers, New Bedford and Medford.

Last week, Springfield became the latest municipality—and the first in Western Mass.—to join that list. On June 7, the Springfield City Council voted in support of a home-rule petition, sponsored by at-large Councilor Jimmy Ferrera, that would ban texting behind the wheel.

According to the petition, "any law enforcement officer with jurisdiction in the City of Springfield" could enforce the law, but could only stop a car to issue a citation "if the officer observes the violation... or has reasonable grounds to believe that a violation& has been committed, is being committed or is about to be committed."

Violators would face fines of $100 for a first offense, with an additional $100 for each subsequent offense, up to a maximum of $300. Seventy-five percent of any fines collected would stay in the city coffers, while 25 percent would be sent to the state Highway Department.

Mayor Domenic Sarno has said he will sign the measure. As a home rule petition, the measure also needs the approval of the state Legislature.

Ferrera told the Advocate he hopes local measures such as Springfield's will help push the Legislature to move the House and Senate bills forward. "I'm hoping that this will act as a signal to Beacon Hill, stating that communities... do want it, and hopefully we can get a statewide ban so that other communities don't just have to keep on filing home rule petitions to get these laws enacted," he said.

About half the states in the nation already have bans on texting while driving. Earlier this month, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas signed a law making his the latest state to join that list.

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