NEWBURYPORT — With mobile technology advancing at a seemingly daily basis, motorists more than ever are forgoing traditional handheld cellphones in favor of hands-free technology that presumably makes it easier to pay attention while driving.
But what state police and local law enforcement agencies have been noticing is that more motorists are wearing headphones or earbuds, adding a new distraction while navigating traffic.
With that in mind, the state police, in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, has begun a new public safety initiative reminding motorists that it is against the law to be wearing headphones while driving and to keep at least one ear free at all times.
Part of this public awareness effort is the use of the DOT’s electronic signboards along highways and secondary roads. The signs are a simple, efficient and cost-effective way to inform the public on this issue and hopefully effect a change in motorist usage of these devices, according to the state police.
“Some operators have begun to use their headsets to listen to music, audio books and other media while driving. When you use both pieces of a headset, you are closing off one of your vital senses. Your ability to hear what’s going on around you is important. Some dangers while driving are not immediately identified by sight alone and your ability to hear may be your only warning to immediate danger,” a state police official said recently.
Amesbury crime prevention police officer Thomas Hanshaw said the rise of headphone use has made it harder for officers to safely respond to emergency calls. When a motorist listens to loud music on headphones, it can be impossible to hear the sirens of a fast-approaching ambulance, fire engine or police cruiser.
Such was the case a few years ago when Hanshaw said he was delayed in responding to a call because a young motorist listening to loud music wouldn’t pull over to the side of the road. Eventually, Hanshaw said, the motorist saw his cruiser’s blues lights in his rearview mirror.