Attleboro area police are ready to enforce new hands-free cellphone law
A new hands-free law on cellphone use takes effect Sunday. Using phones connected to the dashboard or console in Bluetooth mode, like above, will be legal. But hand-held use of a cellphone while driving will not.
MARK STOCKWELL/THE SUN CHRONICLE
Driving around with your cellphone in your hand will soon be illegal in Massachusetts.
A new law goes into effect Sunday that prohibits drivers from using any electronic device, including cellphones, unless the device is used in hands-free mode on Bluetooth.
And the penalties for violating it are stiff.
A first offense will cost you $100. A second offense is a $250 fine and a violator must complete a mandatory distracted driving educational program. Any violation after that carries a $500 fine in addition to an insurance surcharge. Violators must also complete a distracted driving educational program.
Under the new law, drivers 18 and over are permitted to only touch devices to activate their cellphone in hands-free mode. Drivers younger than 18 are already not allowed to use any electronic devices, including cellphones.
Adult drivers can only enable their cellphone when it is mounted to the windshield, dashboard or center console in a manner that does not impede the operation of the motor vehicle.
They are not allowed to touch the device for texting, emailing, apps, video or internet use. Voice-to-text communication and using GPS navigation are only allowed if the device is mounted.
The only time drivers will be permitted to use their phone while holding it is when they are off the road or to call 911. However, it is recommended that you pull over and stop before calling 911.
Police will be issuing warnings until March 31 for first violations, except for typing or reading an electronic message such as a text or email.
Area police say they are ready to enforce the law.
North Attleboro Police Chief John Reilly, who has long been an opponent of cellphone use while driving, said enforcement of the new law will be treated like any other traffic offense. Reilly said he will tell his staff to “use their judgment and life experience” in enforcing it.
“I don’t think there is a driver who doesn’t think cellphones are not a problem. You see them swerving, failing to signal, blowing through red lights and not slowing down,” Reilly said.
Norton Police Lt. Todd Jackson said he thinks obeying the new law will be more difficult for older drivers because they are used to using them. It is already illegal for drivers under 18 to use a cellphone, so they are used to the prohibition, he said.
Jackson said the new law will cut down on accidents.
“I think I speak for many when I say I believe the new hands-free law will make the roads much safer,” he said.
Some police chiefs see problems enforcing the law and say the Bluetooth technology allowing hands-free use is not uniform.
“I think it’s going to be difficult to enforce,” Wrentham Police Chief Bill McGrath said. “And I think people are going to ignore it.”
McGrath said the Bluetooth technology does not always work well and only the latest model cars are equipped with the most up-to-date version. In addition, he said, not everyone has the latest smartphone.
“All of these people are going to be at a disadvantage when it comes to compliance.” McGrath said. “It’s a very uneven playing field.”
The chief said he will instruct his officers to be flexible when enforcing the law and lean heavily toward giving warnings to drivers.
McGrath counts himself among those who view cellphone bans with some skepticism. He said there are studies that dispel the popular notion that cellphone use is more of a distraction than driving while drinking a coffee, fiddling with the car stereo or talking to another person in the car.
“It’s more about where you’re head or brain is and why you’re not focusing on the road,” McGrath said.
Massachusetts is the last state in the Northeast to place a total ban on cell phone use while driving.
David Linton may be reached at 508-236-0338.