Hands-free law goes in effect Sunday
By Christian M. Wade Statehouse Reporter
Feb 21, 2020
Feb 21, 2020
BOSTON — Driving while holding a smartphone or other electronic device in Massachusetts is illegal beginning this Sunday, when the new hand-free law goes into effect.
The new rules, signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in November, prohibit drivers from holding a phone while talking, inputting an address into a GPS, or composing or reading text messages.
Violators initially will receive verbal and written warnings through March 31, when fines and tougher sanctions go into effect.
Those fines will range from $100 for a first offense to $500 for repeated offenses. Motorists with multiple violations would be subject to insurance surcharges.
State and local police have rolled out public relations campaigns to educate drivers, including events to show how to connect to wireless systems in vehicles.
Baker said the rules will make the roads safer, saving lives and preventing injuries from distracting drivers.
“There’s simply no question that the evidence on this one is clear,” Baker told reporters at a press briefing in Newton Thursday. “Distracted driving is a tremendous risk for the drivers, for the passengers in the vehicle, and for anybody who happens to be on the other end of an accident that involves a distracted driver.”
State troopers plan to step up patrols along highways to enforce the new rules beginning Sunday.
“Our goal is for you to get home safely to the ones that you care about and the ones that care about you,” State Police Col. Christopher Mason said at Thursday’s briefing. “Nothing on your screen is worth your life or the life of another.”
The new law also makes violations a primary enforcement offense. Unlike seatbelt violations, drivers may be stopped solely for using their phone while driving.
Under the rules, drivers will still be permitted to use navigation systems mounted on the dashboard or windshield, and a “single tap or swipe” to activate or deactivate hands-free mode.
There are exemptions for emergency situations, such as reporting an accident or calling police about a public safety matter.
On-duty members of law enforcement are exempt from the law.
The changes update the state’s 2010 texting while driving legislation, which law enforcement officials have said isn’t strong enough. It prohibits cellphone use by drivers age 18 or younger, and otherwise prevents drivers only from text messaging while driving.
Safe-driving advocates who’ve lobbied for years to update the rules say they’re needed to prevent injuries and fatalities.
“People need to just put their phones down and drive,” said Emily Stein, president of the nonprofit Safe Roads Alliance, who lost her father, Howard, to a distracted driver in 2011.
Lawmakers wrangled over an update to the 2010 law for years amid concerns that allowing police to stop people for cell phone violations could lead to racial profiling.
The law includes a requirement that enforcement data be submitted to the state Registry of Motor Vehicles for analysis. Should its annual review determine that a police department has engaged in racial or gender profiling, officers must undergo “bias training” under the new data collection requirements.
Massachusetts joins at least 20 other states, including New Hampshire, that ban the use of hand-held devices while driving.
Distracted driving was blamed for nearly 4,000 motorist deaths nationwide in 2016, according to AAA Southern New England, including 45 fatalities on Bay State roads.
For more information: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/hands-free-law
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites.