Drive ‘n text? Staties comin after u

Federal, state, and local public safety officials have long warned about the dangers of distracted driving.  Former US transportation secretary Ray LaHood turned the issue into a quasi-personal crusade, and 41 states including Massachusetts now have laws that ban texting while driving. Another 11 states have banned hand-held cell phone usage while driving.

North Carolina went far so as to recruit zombies to star in a public safety announcement warning, “Don’t be a zombie, don’t drive distracted.”

But even apocalyptic scenarios aren’t doing much to dent the widespread perception that it is perfectly safe and acceptable to drive and talk, or worse, drive and text. MBTA operators, who theoretically should know better, have caused major accidents while texting. A Norton woman recently found out that not only is it difficult to drive drunk, it is nearly impossible to drive drunk and text.  Nationwide, more than 3,000 people have been killed in accidents that involved a distracted driver.

An online survey conducted in March by the insurance carrier Plymouth Rock Assurance and released Tuesday found that 40 percent of Massachusetts drivers drive and send text messages. Of the 22 percent of people surveyed who admitted to surfing the web while driving, the majority were checking directions; 10 percent were tweeting and another 8 percent had to see what their Facebook friends were up to.

The majority of respondents were aware that a 2010 law bans driving while texting. This month some of them will be reacquainted with that law the hard way.

Massachusetts and Connecticut each received a $275,000 National Highway Traffic Safety grant last year to determine how best to identify people who are driving and texting. This month, the Massachusetts State Police begin a two-year crackdown on distracted driving. The “Text With One Hand, Ticket in the Other” pilot campaign on state roads starts in 12 communities north of Boston: Andover, Dracut, Dunstable, Lawrence, Lowell, Methuen, North Andover, North Reading, Reading, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro, and Wilmington.

Fines for texting while driving range from $100 for the first offense to $500 to the third offense, money that could probably be better spent on a few months of off-road messaging and data usage.

The Joint Committee on Transportation has yet to schedule public hearings on pending bills dealing with distracted driving, according to the State House News Service.Yet texting technology is fast outstripping lawmakers’ ability to bring the hammer down on the people who abuse it.  

Drivers may soon have the option of sending texts via “voice-to-text” messaging.  The Texas Tribune reports that a Southwest Region University Transportation Center/Texas A&M Transportation Institute study found little difference in response times between voice-to-text and hands-on texting: Drivers needed double the time to respond to pedestrians or other problems on the road than they did if they were concentrating on travel.

                                                                                                                                                                            –GABRIELLE GURLEY

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

An Andover teacher fired for sending an email to fellow teachers about an ongoing labor dispute appeals to the state Labor Relations Board to get her job back, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Lawrence City Council calls in an auditing firm to scrub the accounts of a city-owned parking garage where receipts allegedly plummeted unexpectedly, the Eagle-Tribune reports. A grand jury is also investigating.

The times, they are a-changing: Scituate may have to leave at least one of its five beaches unguarded because of a shortage of applicants for the lifeguard positions.

CASINOS

The Globe reports that Boston officials and Suffolks Downs honchos, once seen as teammates in the bid for a Boston casino, are quite far apart in agreeing to terms on how much money a casino would pay its host city.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Governing notes three lieutenant governors, including Tim Murray in Massachusetts, have resigned recently amid scandal.

The American Spectator actually quotes the late Sen. Ted Kennedy to buttress its call to deny President Obama’s three nominees to the Appeals Court in the District of Columbia by reducing the number of judges in the court.

ELECTIONS

A quickly emerging challenge in the Boston mayor’s race: How to run a candidates’ forum that could include a dozen or so participants.

Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez get ready to square off tonight in the first of three televised debates for US Senate. As they do, they try out their messages, WBUR reports.

EDUCATION

Lynn’s chief financial officer calls charter school tuition costs, particularly those of the KIPP Academy, “a killer,” the Item reports.

The noose continues to tighten on the president of the Cambridge-based American Academy of Arts of Sciences, who has promoted herself as holding a Ph.D., but doesn’t.

Yale University is preparing to buy two streets from New Haven, Connecticut, for $3 million, the same amount it currently pays to lease the streets each year, NECN reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Massachusetts ranks second only to California in a new listing of states’ clean energy activities; Boston ranks 10th among cities, reports CommonWealth.

Experts say the allergy season has become longer and stronger, another result of climate change.

OSHA has fined the contractor erecting a Hanover turbine for two safety violations stemming from an accident at the site in December.

MidAmerican Energy plans to build 650 wind turbines in Iowa by 2015, Governing reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Whitey Bulger comes face-to-face with the pool of jurors from which will be chosen a group that will decide his fate. WBUR examines Bulger’s victims (and doesn’t bother to refer to them as “alleged” victims).

SPORTS

ESPN reports Major League Baseball is considering suspending as many as 20 players, including some of its biggest stars such as Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, for up to 100 games in what could be the biggest performance enhancing drug scandal in the history of sports.

MEDIA

Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy, in a piece for the Nieman Journalism Lab, reveals the lessons he learned writing his new book, The Wired City.