Police: New law is heeded
Drivers seem to have gotten the message about the state’s new hand-held device law.
Despite extra patrols on the lookout for offenders, only about 38 people in the Milford-Amherst- Wilton area received warnings or summons during the first few days after a law went into effect forbidding the use of cell phones and other devices.
Police chiefs in the three towns said compliance has been good.
In Amherst, Chief Mark Reams said police gave out 26 warnings or citations, amounting to about 13 percent of the total over the first five days of the month.
Most of the 26 received warnings.
"Most departments are trying to give some leeway" during the early days of the law, he said, but if the driving is egregious, for example, if the car is also going over the yellow line, the driver received a citation.
Police saw a lot fewer people talking or cell phones than usual, he said.
Wilton Police Chief Brent Hautanen, however, spent some time at
the Seacoast over the July Fourth weekend and was not impressed by the compliance over there.
"I visited one of the more popular tourist spots" and noticed a lot of people talking on their phones – about a half dozen, and all of them had New Hampshire plates. "I think there is still work to do," in spreading the word, he said.
In Wilton, police gave out one summons – meaning a $100 fine – under the new law, and the high visibility of police is helping local compliance, he said.
Towns added extra patrols, especially over the holiday weekend, and in Milford, said Capt. Craig Frye, only 11 drivers out of the 158 that had been stopped, were using hand-held devices.
Frye noted that the new law was very well advertised.
Electronic signs on Route 101A alerted drivers to the change.
Police had promised strict enforcement, and local police might be more attuned to the dangers of distracted driving because of two fatalities, just before Christmas in 2013 when a retired Amherst fire chief and a Brookline mother of three children were killed in separate accidents involving distracted drivers.
And in both cases prosecutors were unable to get convictions under existing laws.
In the Amherst case, a jury found the driver, Travis Hobbs, 20, of Mont Vernon, not guilty of negligent homicide, even though he admitted that he was texting at the time his vehicle hit John Bachman at the mailbox in front of his home.
The case against Greg Cullen, 31, of Milford, was dismissed, though he admitted he was checking his geographic positioned device when his vehicle crashed into Katie Hamilton’s at the intersection of Routes 13 and 130 in Brookline.
Along with cell phones, the new law covers GPS, tablets, iPods, iPads, anything else that requires data entry. Hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth, are allowed.
Teens are not allowed to use any electronic device, hands-free or not and penalties can include loss of license.
Public service messages have pointed to the number of fatalities caused by distracted driving and the danger of having eyes off the road during the five seconds of a typical text message at 50 miles per hour, which amounts to driving the length of a football field without looking.
According to the Amherst Police Department, there were 116 fatalities caused by distracted driving over the past four years.
Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or email@example.com.