Don’t Talk While Driving; Don’t Text While DrivingMar 29, 2021 02:02PM ● By Michele Taranto
Norwood PD on Guard for Distracted Drivers
Officer George was out conducting crosswalk and distracted driving enforcement last month. With the warm weather right around the corner, you may notice an increased police presence near crosswalks. Please exercise caution while driving in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic.
February 23 marked one year since the two Massachusetts Hands-Free laws were enacted. With April marked as Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and warmer weather approaching, this is a fitting time to remind all drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.
Norwood resident Tom Brannelly, who lost his daughter Katie in 2013 to a distracted driver, joined Emily Stein OShea, head of the Safe Roads Alliance (SFA), who lost her father during a texting/navigation incident, and two other families for the seven year journey advocating this new law.
According to SFA, nearly 30,000 citations and warnings were given out in Massachusetts between February 23, 2020 and December 31, 2020. The legislation requires motorists to use hands-free features on their cell phones while driving, which includes using any mobile electronic devices to write, send, or read, including text messages, emails, instant messages, or accessing the internet (www.saferoadsalliance.org/hands_free_law). Drivers can use GPS devises affixed to their vehicle which can be used with only a tap or swipe of a finger. First offences will be fined $100, second offenses will pay $250 and be required to take a safety course, and $500 for subsequent offenses. Junior operators, those under the age of 18, are not allowed to use their phones at all, not for texting or talking. The penalties for junior operators are a 180 day license suspension for a first offense, and second or subsequent offenses withing three years is a one-year suspension and $500 reinstatement fee.
The SFA and Brannelly would like to encourage drivers to put their phones on silent and out of reach in the car to avoid any temptation.
We cannot be attentive and defensive drivers if we are distracted by our phones,” Stein said. “Hang up and drive for your own safety, for your fellow drivers, and for all the people walking and bicycling on the roads. And hang up for your kids in the backseat who one day will be drivers themselves. They are watching you closely and if you text or talk while driving, then it’s more likely for your kids to be distracted when they start driving.”
According to a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study, sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of driving blindfolded at 55-mph for the length of an entire football field.
Katie Brannelly, 24, was a victim of distracted driving while she was crossing a street in Norwood Center with her boyfriend Dom and her friend Kerri by a 25 year-old Suffolk Law student who had either received or sent eight text messages before the crash, including one minute before the tragedy.
“Why?”, Brannelly asked. “What was so important that required eight texts from Boston to Norwood–that’s a text every three or four minutes. The woman was not convicted.” He believes it is a gross injustice.
Katie sustained a traumatic brain injury and after several weeks in intensive care was transferred to a rehabilitation center in a minimal awareness coma. Katie ultimately lost her young life due to complications from the injuries she sustained.
“For 15 months, my wife Valerie, our children Marty and Janeen, and her boyfriend Dom (who has since made a full recovery) visited Katie every day, spending, 10 to 12 hours a day talking to her, encouraging her, looking for any little sign of progress.” Brannelly said. “She became our whole life.”
With the onset of COVID-19, SFA and Brannelly were limited with their ability to share their personal experiences and dangers of distracted driving, but just last month, Brannelly spoke at Xaverian Brothers High School.
“I feel that if I can get through to just one student, than I may have saved a life, and that family would not go through the pain that never goes away,” Brannelly said.
Brannelly has visited his Katie’s gravesite every day for the past eight years. He made a promise to his daughter that he would help make a change in the state driving laws and he is fulfilling that promise.
We have to change the culture of the phone in the car while driving,” Brannelly said. “With more policing and tickets givenout for violations, the roads will be safer for us all. I still see drivers who are oblivious to their surroundings and dismissive of the current law- heads down-texting away- emailing- navigation, etc. The fear of every parent is the ‘knock’ on the door or that phone call- that your child is in the hospital or worse. Put the phone away. It’s the law.”