Massachusetts is Officially Hands-Free!

We have all seen drivers glued to their cellphone screens while sitting in Boston’s now infamous gridlock rush-hour traffic. Many of us have missed a green light or two because of smartphone-related inattentiveness. Or worse, some of us have been in crashes because of these dangerous habits. Hopefully that will change, as a highly anticipated new law now makes holding your phone while driving illegal. On Monday, November 25, 2019, after several years of sitting in the state Legislature, Governor Baker signed An Act Requiring the Hands-Free Use of Mobile Telephones While Driving into law. The new law will require drivers (and cyclists!) to keep their hands off of their cellphones while driving, and to use hands-free “Bluetooth” technology to make and receive calls. The laws prohibit the use of handheld cellphones to call or text, access social media, read or send email, and program navigation and GPS systems or mapping applications, while the vehicle is in motion. The law does allow for a single tap or swipe to enable or deactivate navigation, and does have an exception for emergency phone calls.


When will this happen?

The law will go into effect 90 days from the signing date, which puts its effective date at February 23, 2020. After that, the law will be in effect, but there will be a grace period through March 31, 2020, during which first-time violators will be let off with a warning. A violation will be a primary offense, which means you can be pulled over just for being on your phone.

What are the Penalties?

Drivers will be subject to a citation and $100 fine if they are found to be using a cellphone in a manner prohibited by the new law. A second offense will get you a citation and a $250 fine and a third offense (and any beyond a third offense) will result in a citation and $500 fine. Anything beyond a first offense will also require the driver to attend an educational program. While first and second offenses are not surchargeable (meaning that your insurance company cannot raise your rates for a first or second offense), a third offense is surchargeable and can cause your insurance bill to go up, in addition to the hefty fines imposed for multiple offenses.

Stronger Laws, Safer Roads

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that distracted driving claimed over 3,000 lives in 2017 alone and the NHTSA has implemented the U DRIVE. U TEXT. U PAY. Campaign, an effort to help end distracted driving by shedding light on the dangers, the penalties and the nearly 20,000 fatalities between 2012 and 2017 attributable to distracted driving.

texting driving

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that forty-eight states now ban texting while driving- (Missouri has a partial ban and Montana does not currently have any ban), and 20 states now prohibit the use of handheld cellphones while driving, which is up by six states over just a few years ago. The new Massachusetts law is a significant bolster to the 2010 no texting law, which has been hard to enforce, since it allows drivers to use their cellphones to make phone calls. Whether it is because they are safety-minded, law-abiding or both, hopefully Massachusetts drivers will obey the new law, making the roads safer in the years to come.

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