Massachusetts drivers that are caught using their cell phones behind the wheel will begin receiving fines instead of warnings on Wednesday, as the buffer period for motorists to get acclimated to the state’s hands-free driving law expired at the end of March.
Drivers are prohibited from touching an electronic device, even if they are stopped at a light or stuck in traffic, except for a single swipe to activate hands-free mode.
Even holding a phone or other device while driving is breaking the new law, the statue states. But drivers can still talk on the phone, change a song, use GPS and voice-to-text if the phone is properly mounted in the car and set to hands-free mode.
The punishment for violating the law, which was implemented on Feb. 23, includes a $100 fine for a first offense, $250 fine for a second offense and $500 fine for a third or subsequent offense. After a first offense, drivers will be forced to go through an educational course about distracted driving prevention.
Gov. Charlie Baker signed the measure into law at the end of November in an attempt to crack down on distracted driving and reduce traffic collisions across the state.
Between 2014 and 2018, drivers in Massachusetts got into more than 16,500 crashes that were caused by using an electronic device, according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
Talking on a handheld device caused just over 1,000 crashes during that time period, while using a hands-free device caused just under 300, the data shows.
“There are thousands of crashes in Massachusetts and hundreds of deaths every year, and many of those are related to distracted driving,” Baker said at a press conference several days before the law went into effect. “I think in many ways this legislation is overdue, but I also believe it will, over time, save lives.”
Drivers under the age of 18 may not use a cellphone at all.