Starting Thursday, drivers who are caught texting behind the wheel in Massachusetts will be pulled over and face hefty fines as the state joins the nationwide push to limit distracted driving.
The new law also prohibits scanning the Internet on a phone or mobile device while driving and bans anyone under 18 from talking on a cell phone while driving. Violators will face fines ranging from $100 for a first offense and up to $500 for repeat offenses. The ban still applies when drivers are at a stoplight.
Gov. Deval Patrick signed the bill into law earlier this year and said it should help make roads in the state safer.
"Driving while texting or using a cell phone carelessly is seriously unsafe," Patrick said in a statement. "This law means police are going to take it seriously."
Last year, almost 6,000 people were killed in crashes on U.S. roadways that were reported to have involved distracted driving. In Massachusetts, there were 400 crashes in 2008 where cell phones were reported to be a contributing factor, according to the state.
Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is leading a national effort to wipe out what he calls the growing epidemic of distracted driving. Massachusetts is the 30th state in the nation to introduce a texting ban.
Sen. Steven A. Baddour, a Methuen Democrat and chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation, said the law should limit distracted driving.
"This law sends a clear message to all drivers regardless of age that when behind the wheel, your primary focus should be driving," Baddour said.
Drivers under 18 who are caught using their phones will be fined $100 and lose their license for 60 days. They will also be required to take a driver retraining course.
The Registry of Motor Vehicles and the AAA are working to warn drivers about the texting ban.
The RMV has advised drivers about the new law through eight large digital billboards on highways across the state and has posted similar information on electronic road signs. Posters are also being put up at RMV branches and MBTA stations.
AAA has produced two public service announcements and is sending e-mails about the new law to its more than 2 million members in Massachusetts.
"Texting is the great triple threat, the most dangerous of distractions," said Mark Shaw, AAA Southern New England President and CEO. "It takes our eyes off the road, our hands off the wheel and our mental focus off our driving."
Jerry Cibley of Foxborough said the new law could have helped save his son Jordan. Jordan, an 18-year-old, was driving on May 13, 2007, when he is believed to have reached down to grab his phone, before crashing into a tree in front of him.
"I am convinced that better education and legislation would have saved my son's life," Cibley said.
David Procopio, a spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police, is confident that officers will be able to identify and pull over offenders of the new law.