Electronic signs have been popping up recently around Andover, reminding citizens of the Massachusetts state law passed last August that made texting while driving illegal. The law, which went into effect in September 2010, bans not only sending and receiving text messages but also all forms of electric communication including surfing the internet, checking email, and playing games.
In Andover however, there have not been many violations since the law came into effect. According to Andover Safety Officer Charles Edgerly there have been only three written warnings and two fines directly having to do with texting while driving since the law was signed.
The fine for texting while driving is $100 for both adults and drivers under 18. Among the five people who have been cited for texting while driving in Andover, all of them have been over the age of 18 and only one driver has been younger than 21.
Part of the problem with the law is that in Massachusetts unlike other states, use of handheld devices is permitted to make phone calls while driving. The officer must make the determination whether the driver was just talking or dialing on the cell phone or actually sending a text message.
“That is where the officer’s observation comes in ,” said Edgerly. If you see somebody and they’re looking down and the thumb is going, and then the phone is up in the ear and they were just looking for a contact or dialing the number. That is still a gray area since it is still distraction.”
Talking or dialing a number on the phone can still be considered an “impeded operation”, if an officer determines that it caused a traffic violation. There have been 27 traffic violations due to impeded operations since September 2010 but those can also include distractions such as changing the radio station or having earbuds in.
While there haven’t been many citations in Andover yet, Edgerly chalks that up to the law still being new to drivers.
“There are still some people who don’t know the new law,” Edgerly said. “We will stop people and talk to them. If it was an honest ‘I’m sorry, I’m just didn’t know’ it’s fine.”
Edgerly likens the new texting law to the seat belt law which even though has been in effect for years, people still are unaware of it. The police have responded by putting electronic signs informing Andover drivers of both laws.
The vehicle does not even have to be moving to be found in violation of the law. If one is found texting while even at a traffic light then officers have the right to issue them a ticket.
“If the vehicle is in drive and the driver’s foot is on the brake, that counts as driving,” Edgerly said. “We’ve had minor rearenders when drivers are distracted.”
Edgerly urges all drivers to pull over to the side of the road if they need to make a phone call or send a text message.