It's been 15 years since state Sen. Mark Montigny first filed a bill that would mandate hands-free cellphones for drivers in Massachusetts. And, yet again, lawmakers this week delayed a final vote that would have sent the legislation to the governor's desk for a signature.
The problem this time for the current bill filed by the New Bedford Democrat is that it got hung up in a conference committee negotiating aspects of the ban on using mobile devices while driving.
Wednesday night, Senate President Karen Spilka predicted the matter "should be done tonight." But midnight came and went and no driving bill surfaced for a vote before lawmakers left for their August recess.
Montigny's bill aims to crack down on the growing problem of distracted driving. Earlier this year he argued – as he has done before when earlier bills came up – that if police had the right tools to penalize drivers for using handheld devices behind the wheel we would see less carnage by distracted drivers.
The National Safety Council says that in 2017, more than 40,000 people died in vehicle crashes in the U.S., with alcohol, speeding and distracted driving being the biggest contributors.
Montigny and a majority of his fellow state senators have voted in favor of the hands-free mandate before but it has stalled repeatedly in the House or, in the current instance, in a conference committee that was working on a compromise.
Last Friday Montigny pointed to Wednesday, July 31 as "the deadline for final action" because the lifesaving measure should be on the books.
"While we want to ensure this issue is fully vetted, we have had over 15 years to do so," he wrote in a letter to the negotiators. "Each day we fail to take action results in injury, property damage and loss of life. Families who have lost loved ones to distracted driving are also left in limbo, wondering whether we are really serious about preventing future tragedies."
That isn't a wild claim by a late-comer to this measure. It's a clear statement by a lawmaker who has ridden this issue since 2004 and believes, as we do, that is should become law.