BOSTON — Verizon Wireless announced today it would support "hands-free" legislation at the state level in Massachusetts to promote responsible use of wireless phones in vehicles by motorists.
The announcement came during a public hearing to gather information on the issue before State Senator James P. Jajuga and State Representative Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Senate and House Chairs of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Public Safety. The legislative position is the centerpiece of Verizon Wireless' Responsible Driving Action plan.
At today's hearing, Dan Mullin, director of State Public Policy for Verizon Wireless, testified that while the company supports the wireless industry's position that all driver distractions should be carefully examined, Verizon Wireless will also support hands-free legislation at the state level. Mullin urged the Legislature to incorporate the following criteria in any statewide hands-free legislation:
- It must recognize the safety value of wireless devices; in 1999, for example, more than 118,000 calls were made daily across the country to 9-1-1 from wireless phones.
- It must explicitly exempt emergency calls.
- The state law must ensure complete uniformity across Massachusetts.
- Similar to the seat-belt law, this hands-free legislation must have a three-year "phase-in" period, to allow consumers to upgrade their handsets to ensure hands-free capability, and to provide handset manufacturers additional research and development time to make hands-free capability more widely available at a lower price.
- The state law must assess penalties equivalent to current distracted driving infractions.
"Verizon Wireless' plan is to be the leader in promoting responsible driving through the use of hands-free technology, education, and if appropriate, statewide legislation," said Bob Stott, president of Verizon Wireless, New England Region. "We applaud Senator Jajuga and Representative Toomey for holding this hearing to seek ways to promote responsible driving on Massachusetts' roads."
At the hearing, Mullin also unveiled the company's Responsible Driver Action plan that emphasizes the commitment to ensure responsible driving practices by customers and employees. This plan includes:
- Requiring handset manufacturers to produce wireless phones with voice-activated dialing and a universal jack to enable connection with an assortment of headsets;
- A display panel entitled "Accessories With Safety in Mind" in all of the company's 1,100 stores across the country by year-end to showcase available hands-free equipment; the company's 16 Communications Stores across the state already have this in its locations;
- Incorporating a responsible driving component in company advertising, customer communications and on its website;
- Training sales and customer service teams about the importance of promoting hands-free devices;
- Providing new employees who operate company vehicles with a defensive driving course and a refresher class every three years; and
- Supporting legislation at the state level to require the use of hands-free devices while driving.
"Enacting statewide hands-free legislation would eliminate the confusion that would result if municipalities adopted a patchwork quilt of ordinances that would be difficult to enforce," Mullin said.
About Verizon Wireless
Verizon Wireless is the largest wireless communications provider in the U.S. with more than 26 million wireless voice and data customers and 3.4 million paging customers. The new coast-to-coast wireless provider was formed by the combination of the U.S. wireless businesses of Bell Atlantic Corp. and GTE Corp - now Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) - and Vodafone Group Plc. (LSE:VOD; NYSE:VOD). The new company includes the assets of Bell Atlantic Mobile, AirTouch Cellular, GTE Wireless, PrimeCo Personal Communications and AirTouch Paging. The new company has a footprint covering nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population, 49 of the top 50 and 96 of the top 100 U.S. markets. Verizon Wireless, headquartered in New York City and Bedminster, NJ, is 30,000 employees strong. Reporters and editors can find more information about the company in its Media Center on the Web at: http://www.verizonwireless.com/news.