Comerford’s ‘Charlie’s Law’ would ban video recording while driving

  • A 69-year-old Northampton man who was biking near the intersection of Woodlawn Avenue and Elm Street near Northampton High School was struck and killed by a vehicle on Oct. 6, 2021. STAFF PHOTO / CAROL LOLLIS

  • Charlie Braun is seen in an undated photo used as the cover of his 2006 album “Lift.”

Staff Writer
Published: 12/15/2021 7:00:41 AM

NORTHAMPTON — A proposed law named for late Northampton musician Charlie Braun would ban drivers from recording or broadcasting video behind the wheel in Massachusetts.

State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said “Charlie’s Law” is named in honor of the guitarist, music teacher and grandfather who was hit by a car and killed near Northampton High School on Oct. 6. She announced the legislation, formally titled “An Act Prohibiting Video Recording or Broadcasting While Driving,” on Tuesday.

Braun, 69, was riding his bicycle near the intersection of Woodlawn Avenue and Elm Street when he was struck by a driver allegedly engaged in a FaceTime video call.

“Our current law prohibits drivers from holding any mobile electronic device in one’s hands, and bans reading or viewing text, images, or video displayed on a mobile electronic device,” Comerford said in a statement announcing the bill. “However, the law could be interpreted to permit someone to record a video if they are not actively handling the device while driving.”

Comerford said that video blogging, or vlogging, websites offer tips for how drivers can record and broadcast while not running afoul of hands-free driving laws. She cited a 2021 report by the State Farm Auto Insurance Co.’s research department, which found that the number of people recording videos while driving more than doubled in the last five years, from 10% to 22% of all drivers.

The State Farm report found that 44% of 18- to 29-year-olds reported recording video while driving.

Haley Kelly-Sherette, 23, of Haydenville, is charged with hitting Braun. She pleaded not guilty to charges of negligent motor vehicle homicide, failing to stop for a stop sign and use of an electronic device while driving.

Braun was known in recent years for leading spiritual music and chanting sessions called Kirtans at the Eastworks building in Easthampton and other locations around New England. According to his website, Braun won the 2009 Gold Award from the Parents’ Choice Foundation for his album of children’s music, “I Miss the Mud.”

His partner, Joan Ringrose Sellers, said the proposed law “will afford others the right to return home, which Charlie will never do again.”

“I see it like Charlie was swept away in a tsunami, the dangerous and destructive rising tide of distracted driving,” she said. “This one small act of closing this loophole in the distracted driving law, along with a renewed and vigorous ad campaign, should deter and diminish the use of cameras and social media content filmed in moving vehicles.”

Several states including Georgia, Arizona, Tennessee and Utah have banned video recording while driving.

Comerford’s bill provides an exception for dashcams that are mounted and operate continuously, like those often used by Uber and Lyft drivers. There are also exceptions for emergencies, when the right to record is protected by state or federal law, or when there is clearly no public safety interest in banning recording.

Several activist groups have already indicated support for the proposed law, which will be considered by the Committee on Rules before it is assigned to a joint committee.

“Even though recording a video while driving increases a driver’s risk of causing a crash, the behavior is being normalized on social media and traditional media,” said Mark Schieldrop, a spokesperson for AAA Northeast.

Emily Stein, president of the organization Safe Roads Alliance, said that “amending the hands-free law will remind drivers that the car is no place for Zoom meetings, FaceTime or vlogging. We must remember that when we drive, that's the only thing we should be doing.”

Karen Foster, Northampton’s Ward 2 city councilor, said the city is working to improve road safety, but “we need to partner with the state for legislation in order to enact more impactful change.”

“We need to be looking at safety from all angles, including roadway design, speed limits and driver behavior to prevent future accidents,” Foster said.


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