City workers told not to text on road

Practice forbidden in Boston vehicles

By Matt Collette
Globe Correspondent / June 26, 2009
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Starting Monday, city employees in Boston will be banned from text-messaging while operating city-owned vehicles, Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced yesterday.

“This is a public safety issue,’’ Menino said at a press conference outside the Government Center T station, the site of a train collision in May that investigators believe was caused by a driver distracted by his cellphone. “This is about saving lives.’’

Menino said he had asked the city’s Office of Labor Relations to work with unions to draft the specifics of the policy, including the punishments for offenders. Union officials could not be reached for comment last night.

The policy follows the adoption of new rules at the MBTA, which T officials yesterday touted as the strictest in the nation. The rules ban train operators and bus drivers from carrying cellphones while working. Since that policy was adopted last month, two employees have been fired and a third was issued a 10-day suspension, according to Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman.

Both Menino and Daniel A. Grabauskas, general manager of the MBTA, said they hope their policies will lead other drivers to change their habits.

“I get complaints from my bus drivers about how they have been cut off by drivers distracted by their own texting,’’ Grabauskas said. “A couple of seconds of convenience is not worth what you might look up at the last second and see.’’

At the end of the event, Menino and Melissa Martin, whose 17-year-old daughter, Amanda, died in a 2007 car crash that Martin attributes to text-messaging, unveiled a new sign, which will appear on billboards, bus stops, and subway advertisements. It reads: “Texting while driving? It may be the last thing you ever do.’’ The sign shows a driver on the Leverett Connector sending a text message. The screen says “BI-BI 143,’’ which organizers said was text-message lingo for “Bye-bye, I love you.’’

“I understand the resistance to change, especially when it comes to driving,’’ Martin said. “But I do believe we will get to be where we need to be: on safe roads.’’

Martin said parents of teenage drivers, who are responsible for the highest number of texting-related crashes, should be cognizant of their children’s driving habits.

“The problem with teenagers is they start to feel safe behind the wheel when they are experienced or when they believe they are experienced,’’ she said. “That’s not the case.’’

Earlier this month, the Legislature’s Transportation Committee heard testimony on 15 different bills that would regulate texting or using a cellphone without a hands-free device while driving. So far, none of the bills have advanced beyond committee.

“But legislation is only part of the effort,’’ said Jeff Larson, president of the Safe Roads Alliance, a nonprofit group in Boston. “People need to understand that this is a dangerous activity.’’

Larson said teenagers are not alone in dangerous driving. Adults using a Blackberry to check their e-mail are just as bad, he said.

Sheila Burgess-Hill, director of the state’s Highway Safety Division, said drivers who think they can drive safely while using a cellphone are mistaken.

“We’re involved in these electronic pieces of equipment, and we’re not paying attention to the dangers of the road,’’ she said.