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Baker, Crash Victim’s Family Push to Ban Handheld Phone Use for Drivers

A packed hearing room at the Massachusetts State House was silent as 21-year-old Hunter Levitan described the day in 2013 when her older sister, Merritt, was killed the summer after her high school graduation while on a cross-country bike trip.

Her mother, Anna Levitan, explained what happened.

"The young driver, the young man, was texting behind the wheel when he plowed into the group," explained her mother, Anna Levitan.

The Levitan family has been working ever since to pass a law making it illegal to use a phone while driving.

Hunter Levitan has advice to those who find it difficult to stay off the phone.

"Put it on the other side of the car. Put it in your purse that's on the floor of the passenger side, turn it off," she said.

Massachusetts passed a texting law in 2010, but because drivers are still allowed to make calls and dial a number, it has been extremely difficult to enforce.

"It's critically important," said Mary Maguire, the Massachusetts spokesperson for AAA. "By taking the phone out of people's hands, it gives law enforcement a clear visual cue. If they're on their phones, they're in violation of the law."

Sen. Mark Montigny has been working to pass a hands-free bill since 2002.

"It is the right and the responsibility of the governor and the Legislature to say, 'No, you don't have the right to drive dangerously,'" Montigny said.

Now, Montigny has the governor on his side.

"There's just a ton of evidence at this point that people are texting and driving, and they're doing it all the time," Gov. Charlie Baker said. "It has created some terrible accidents and tragedies."

The governor has packaged the hands-free driving bill along with a proposal that would allow police to stop motorists for not wearing a seat belt.

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