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 kcleveland@cabinet.com.