Distracted driving in Massachusetts spikes as traffic returns

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS/WWLP) – Citations and warnings for distracted driving on Massachusetts roadways have exploded in the last four months, reflecting both stepped-up enforcement and also growing traffic as the state continues to reopen, officials said Monday.

Acting Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler told the Department of Transportation’s board of directors that the number of drivers stopped for allegedly using a device behind the wheel increased sharply for each of the past four months.

In January, police issued 151 citations and warnings for distracted driving, according to figures Tesler presented. That increased to 405 in February, 3,515 in March, and 10,276 in April — about 68 times as many as in January.

“This can be accounted for both in the increased focus on enforcement as well as, obviously, from the winter to the spring, a significant increase in traffic on the roads, a significant increase in activity,” Tesler said.

A new law prohibiting the use of any electronic device while driving, save for a single tap or swipe to activate hands-free mode, took effect in February 2020 with fines starting in April 2020. Traffic has been rebounding in recent months after dropping significantly earlier in the pandemic.

Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver said at Monday’s board meeting that officials project travel during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend will be “approaching and possibly even matching 2019 volumes.”

“This is an important reminder for everybody to not engage in distracted driving, to put down your phones,” Tesler said. “It will be a busy period of time. We’re excited we’re taking the next step in the opening, but we do encourage people to drive safely, and we really want to focus on the critical role that avoiding distracted driving can play in keeping the commonwealth, other drivers, and yourself safe.”

Pioneer Valley AAA spokesperson Sandra Marsian told 22News they’re starting a social media campaign directed at teenage drivers, “The most important thing is to remind teen drivers, many of whom might not be on the road that much because of COVID-19, of the rules of the road again.”

This AAA safety campaign is based in part on their statistics that reveal most teenage drivers surveyed admit to distracted driving in particular texting-which comes no surprise to one veteran driver.

“I think it’s second nature to them to multi-task. Having a phone in one hand to do something else. They need to break the habit,” said Mart Pacillo of Northampton.

AAA is calling on parents to talk with their teens early and often about dangerous behavior behind the wheel during this peak travel season.

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