|Troopers Anthony Dear and Michael Ahern pulled their State Police
cruiser onto Interstate 93 southbound in Boston at half past noon yesterday. "I'll be eyes right," Ahern
said, "you be eyes left." It was Day One of the state's ban on texting while driving, and the troopers were
scanning cars around them. They spotted: a man scarfing pretzels, a woman eating a peach, and a
multitude of people on cellphones not textbook behavior, but not against the law.
And then they saw him: A man with razored sideburns, driving a Chrysler 300 with tiny boxing
gloves dangling from the mirror, his head down and his right hand cradling a touchscreen phone.
His thumb was tapping. He sat in stop-and-go traffic on a two-lane onramp by the South Bay Center,
cars passing him on the right, a gap opening in front of him. Occasionally he rolled forward, still studying
his phone. "No idea we're even here," Ahern said, narrating. "He is on that thing. Now he's got no hands
on the wheel. Now he's no hands on the wheel, looking down." Nearly two minutes elapsed before the man,
a 29-year-old from Chelmsford, saw the cruiser on his left. "Pull over," Dear said through the cruiser's
speakers, as he activated the lights. "He's going to get the hundred dollars," he said to Ahern, before
approaching the Chrysler, ready to write his first citation for a violation of Chapter 90, Section 13B of
the Massachusetts General Laws, a statute that had been in effect for only 12 hours.
The texting ban for drivers is one part of a legislative package known as the Safe Driving Act, which took
effect yesterday and which also bans drivers under age 18 from using a cellphone in any fashion behind
the wheel. Adults face a $100 fine for a first offense, while junior operators, those under 18, face license
suspension, as well as the fine. Dear and Ahern are members of the State Police's Community Action
Team, a floating unit that supplements regular state and local patrols in high-crash and high-crime areas
across Greater Boston. Yesterday, they allowed the Globe to observe as they followed a zigzagging route
from South Boston to Dedham and back on highways and local roads to enforce the new ban, as well as
all other traffic laws. "It's not just about texting," said Dear, noting that there is also an established law that
enables police to write $35 citations for "impeded operation" or "unsafe driving" of almost any kind, be it
operating while listening to headphones, or driving with the seat reclined too far.
The new law is part of a wave of related bills enacted nationally amid growing awareness of the dangers
posed by distracted drivers. In 2009, nearly 1 million accidents and 500,000 injuries were attributed to
distraction. Last year, Americans sent 1.6 trillion text messages and spent 2.3 trillion minutes talking on
cellphones, much of it done on the roads. "The classic is the phone on the shoulder, the coffee in the left
hand, the breakfast sandwich in the right hand, driving with the knees," said Ahern, as he and his partner
headed south on patrol.
Troopers are encouraged to use discretion and common sense, drawing on their experience and the
circumstances, in enforcing the distracted-driving laws. Near the Braintree Split, the pair spotted a man
in a Toyota Highlander who appeared to be either dozing or texting. "His eyes are up, his eyes are
down . . . I want to see where his hands are," said Ahern,
as Dear navigated for a closer look. But when the troopers pulled alongside the man, he locked his focus
on the road, both hands on the wheel. They kept driving. Going north on Route 128, they passed a man
in a Volvo SUV craning to sip a tall drink without removing it from the cupholder awkward, but not
enough for a citation. They pulled onto Exit 15A in Dedham, where a man in a Honda Civic waiting for
traffic to move seemed to be fiddling with something out of view. "Whatever he was doing, he put it
down fast," Ahern said, as they passed.
They merged onto Route 1, where a woman with an infant in the back seat of her Ford Explorer had
stopped in the middle of the road, studying a smartphone in plain view, as traffic sped past her after a
red light changed back to green. They signaled her to pull over into the adjacent parking lot at Legacy
Place. Ahern approached, his flat-brimmed hat drawn down to his eyes, his right hand resting just above
his holstered Sig Sauer handgun. Ahern issued a warning to the woman. She said she had been studying
directions on her phone's GPS and failed to notice that the light had changed, and he instructed her not to
do it again, at least for her child's sake. "All she had to do was pull into a parking lot," said Dear, photos of
his own young sons tucked into the dome light overhead.
On the VFW Parkway, the troopers saw another driver studying a smartphone, oblivious to the road
conditions. The man, a courier, said he had been reading instructions that get beamed to his phone
by a dispatcher, while talking to the dispatcher on a two-way radio still a violation of the law.
He had not noticed the light change. "As soon as I heard about the law, I thought, "This is going to
affect me," said Bob Faria, 55, of Quincy after receiving a written warning. "I didn't think it was going to
affect me today. But I had a feeling it was going to affect me, in at least looking around before I do
anything stupid like that."
The troopers said they were issuing more first-day warnings than citations, except for egregious violations,
with education their primary goal. "If nothing else, a citation, a warning it educates the public," Ahern
said. "And that education hopefully will help curb the behavior."
They drove through parts of Mattapan and Dorchester, issuing another warning, to a woman studying
handwritten directions while taking her newborn to see her aunt, and stopping at a light at Blue Hill Avenue,
where a homeless man with a shock of gray hair and a translucent poncho walked among the cars. "Talk
about impeding traffic," Ahern said. "He's been here since I was like 7 years old." Near Bowdoin and
Washington streets, they waited at a light across from a vacant lot where two men were chatting, the
troopers studying the men and the men studying the troopers. One man raised his arms, giving two
thumbs up. "Hey!" he shouted. "No texting!" The troopers smiled. "See," Ahern said. "People are paying