EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

February 19, 2014

Editorial: Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel

New Hampshire lawmakers today will consider three proposals to strengthen the state’s distracted driving laws.

One would make hand-held cellphone use illegal. Another would target bus and taxi drivers. The third, the most restrictive, would ban the use of all electronic devices when behind the wheel and also address other distractions — eating, reading, putting on makeup.

The state already bans texting while driving, as do 40 other states, but drivers can still legally read text messages and look up directions on an electronic device while behind the wheel.

While cellphone restrictions for drivers are becoming more common, this is New Hampshire, where seat belts, motorcycle helmets and car insurance are all optional.

New Hampshire instituted a texting ban in 2010 and was followed later that year by Massachusetts. Enforcement numbers are low, numbering in the hundreds, a fact often cited by opponents of further restrictions.

If Granite State lawmakers opt to strengthen the law and ban hand-held use, it would become the 13th state to do so. It would be unusual to see the Live Free or Die State on the cutting edge of any restriction on personal freedom, but one the state could be proud of.

Police and highway safety officials have spoken out in favor of the restrictions.

N.H. State Police Lt. Matt Shapiro said the current law isn’t restrictive enough and that’s evident in the increasing number of fatal accidents attributed to distracted driving.

He said as many as 28 percent of fatalities on New Hampshire highways over the past six years are related to distracted driving.

The number of people who died on the state’s road was at a five-year high in 2013, when 133 were killed. The number of fatalities was up a staggering 20 percent over 2012. Shapiro acknowledged the cause of those accidents remains unchanged — impaired driving, speed, no seat belt use and distracted driving.

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