State House News Service item: Police cited more than 38,000 motorists for distracted driving in the first eight months of the year.
More than 38,000! Nice job, Massholes.
It’s been 32 months since it became illegal for Massachusetts drivers to handle their phones while in motion, an overdue response to the fast-growing role of texting while driving in crashes and fatalities. That’s plenty of time for even the dimmest bulbs to figure out the practice could cost them money, let along severe bodily harm to themselves and others.
But a full house at Fenway’s worth of us seem to fancy themselves a cross between Mario Andretti and Mike Longstreet, the blind detective from an early-1970s TV series – no need to actually look at the road while driving…I got this!
According to Registrar of Motor Vehicles Colleen Ogilvie, the deluge of driving-while-texting (DWT) tickets seems to accelerate in April. Of course it does. Lord Tennyson wrote that in spring, “a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Maybe that’s the drill in England. But here, the first warm days unleash thoughts of binge drinking, exposing skin to the sun without benefit of sunscreen (or, in townie parlance, “getting lobbie” as in lobster-like), and DWT.
We can’t police all stupidity, unless we want to drain the Quabbin and rehab the lost towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott into a massive prison complex. But given our culture’s near-total “smart” phone addiction, this is a mushrooming public safety hazard.
So what are we – meaning you, Beacon Hill – going to do about it?
Off the top, toughen the penalties for what we’re sure is the small percentage of scofflaws who get nabbed. A mere hundred bucks for a first offense? Try $500. If that seems unbearably harsh, offer an option to first-offenders: instead of ponying up the half a G, they can install one of the existing apps that can tell when you’re driving and lock up your phone, emergency contacts excepted.
A second offense? A $1,000 fine or more, with no app option. That’ll leave a mark.
And if it’s still not enough to persuade Dumbo and Dumbette that instant absorption of irrelevant texts, tweets and TikToks does not take priority over human life, capital punishment needs to make a Massachusetts comeback. No, not the hot seat or hot shot.
Take their phones away, for a week or more depending on how much we really care about stopping the insanity. No doubt, the squeals of protest will dwarf the whining about mask and vaccination mandates.
But there’s precedent. What competent parent wouldn’t snatch a sharp knife away from a toddler, or confiscate a bottle rocket from a clueless teen? It doesn’t happen often, but we do seize legally-owned weapons from those deemed ultra-risky under our “red flag” law.
And if those terrifying DWT citation numbers aren’t a red flag, what is?
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