BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker threw his support for the first time on Tuesday behind a proposal that would ban motorists in Massachusetts from holding their cellphones while they drive.
Baker, a Republican, endorsed the Senate-passed bill while also urging drivers to use caution and avoid distractions while traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday period.
“During the holiday season, millions of people will travel across the Commonwealth to be with loved ones, and we are making it a priority to keep the roads safe,” said Baker, in a statement. “We encourage everyone to travel safely and limit dangerous behaviors like distracted or impaired driving.”
The bill would make it illegal for motorists to use their cellphones, GPS or other electronic devices except with hands-free technology. An exception would be made for emergency calls. It also would be illegal to access social media, make video calls or use any camera function while driving.
Drivers would be allowed a single touch or swipe to activate a hands-free mechanism.
When asked about the legislation in the past, Baker has been non-committal, saying only that he would “carefully review” the bill if it reached his desk.
In February, during his monthly “Ask the Governor” program on WGBH-FM, Baker sounded skeptical of the need for a ban, saying that while texting and driving was clearly a problem, he wasn't sure that talking on the phone posed the same hazard.
The Senate approved the measure in June but it has yet to be debated in the House. The Legislature is currently on recess until January.
More than a dozen states require hands-free cellphone use by drivers, including Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.
Current Massachusetts law bans texting while driving, and any cellphone use at all by drivers under 18.
Cellphone use is considered one of the leading causes of distracted driving, which claims thousands of lives in the U.S. each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Baker also announced on Tuesday that he was filing two other bills related to traffic safety. One would give state transportation officials greater authority to establish and enforce lower speed limits within active road construction sites, and double fines for speeding within work zones.
The other bill seeks uniform standards for the admissibility in court of a type of vision test sometimes given drivers suspected by police of being impaired.
Secretary of Public Safety Dan Bennett said fatal crashes have been increasing in recent years.
“Stronger laws deter unsafe and impaired driving behaviors and help assure that police have the ability to keep our roads safe,” said Bennett.