Beyond the Bubble: news across Berkshire County

Sofie Jones and Irene Loewenson

Mass. prohibits use of handheld devices for all drivers

On Feb. 23, new “hands-free” driving legislation took effect in Massachusetts that prohibit all use of handheld devices behind the wheel. However, the ban does not include Bluetooth and other hands-off capabilities if a device is properly mounted or installed on the vehicle’s console. 

While Massachusetts has enforced bans on emailing and texting while driving since 2010, this legislation makes it the last state in New England to ban the use of handheld devices for all drivers. This bill, which Governor Charlie Baker signed into law in late November, comes after years of discussion among state officials, law enforcement and citizens who have been affected by the dangers of distracted driving. 

“There are thousands of crashes in Massachusetts and hundreds of deaths every year, and many of those are related to distracted driving,” Baker said at a press conference in late February. “I think in many ways this legislation is overdue, but I also believe it will, over time, save lives.”

According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the number of accidents caused by distracted driving in the state jumped from 28 accidents in 2014 to 38 accidents in 2018, an increase of 35.7 percent. Between 2014 and 2018, there were 233 total distracted driving-related fatalities in the state. 

Although the ban is already legally effective, police officers in the state will be issuing warnings through the end of March. On April 1, officers will begin to issue violations, with fines beginning at $100 and increasing to up to $500 for subsequent offenses. Repeat offenders will also be required to complete a distracted driving education program. 

The bill limits the use of handheld phones when a driver is in a travel lane, regardless of whether or not they are stopped, but does not apply to those pulled over on the side or shoulder of the road. It remains illegal for drivers under 18 to use devices in any capacity while behind the wheel. 

Biden leads in Massachusetts Democratic primary, with results not fully settled

As of press time, former Vice President Joe Biden holds the lead in the Massachusetts Democratic primary, having amassed 33 percent of votes, per The New York Times. With 45 percent of precincts reporting, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) appears to be in second place with 26 percent, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in third with 21 percent.

Biden performed better than expected. Both The New York Times and FiveThirtyEight had predicted that Sanders would most likely place first in Massachusetts, followed by Warren and then by Biden. 

It was a good night overall for Biden, who won several of the states that voted yesterday in the Super Tuesday primaries, including Alabama, Arkansas, Minnesota, North Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Sanders has won Vermont, Colorado and Utah. (As of press time, not all of the states have reported conclusive results.) Biden likely benefited from the recent exits of moderates Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Ind.