As of February 23, 2020, Massachusetts drivers will be penalized for holding their cell phones while operating a vehicle. The new legislation, An Act Requiring the Hands-Free Use of Mobile Telephones While Driving, furthers the Commonwealth’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan and is designed to reduce distracted driving. With 322 traffic fatalities in Massachusetts in 2019 and 29 thus far in 2020, the law is designed to hold operators accountable for paying attention to the road (instead of their phones).
The hands-free law has only two narrow exceptions: you may hold your phone to dial 911 and, if you are over the age of 18, you may touch your phone to turn it on to hands-free mode only if it is properly mounted to a windshield or dashboard. While in hands-free mode and properly mounted, drivers over the age of 18 will be permitted to activate GPS and use voice to text communication. Texting, emailing, the use of social media and other apps, videos and internet usage are all strictly prohibited.
The new legislation makes Massachusetts the 21st state to enact a handheld cell phone usage ban. Police officers will be required to report any incidents involving cell phone usage in order to track and report the data annually to the public.
Now through March 31, 2020, police officers will only issue violators a warning. However, after that date, drivers will be fined $100 for a first time offense; a $250 fine and mandatory completion of a distracted driving educational program for a second offense; and a $500 fine plus the distracted driving program and an insurance surcharge for every subsequent offense.
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