What to Know: Massachusetts' Hands-Free Driving Bill

Last updated: 11-24-2019

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What to Know: Massachusetts' Hands-Free Driving Bill

Massachusetts would join the rest of New England as the last state in the region to implement such a law.

Massachusetts senators will consider implementing a hands-free driving bill after House members voted 153-1 to approve the legislation.

Bay State representatives approved legislation Tuesday aimed at eliminating distracted driving and criminalizing holding cellphones while behind the wheel. Already, Bay State motorists are prohibited from texting and driving, but they could technically still have their phones to their ears without fear of being cited. That could soon change, however.

Here's what to know about the bill that has been years in the making:

Hands-free driving is defined as cellphone use while behind the wheel without the use of your hands. Such methods can involve using voice-to-text technology, auxiliary systems or Bluetooth and the use of mounts that could hold electronic devices.

Under the new bill, the use of all electronic devices would be forbidden unless they are used with hands-free methods. Drivers could still use navigation systems if they are mounted on the dashboard, center console or windshield.

The bill states that a "single tap or swipe" to activate or deactivate hands-free mode is permitted.

Fines for those who disobey the law would range from $100 to $500.

First-time offenders would face a $100 fine, $250 fines would be issued for second offenses and a third or any subsequent offense would face a $500 fine and woudl also draw auto insurance surcharges.

In addition to the fines, drivers who commit a second or subsequent offenses would be required to complete a Registry of Motor Vehicles program about distracted driving.

The RMV will collect data from any Massachusetts drivers who are cited or receive a warning for violating the law.

Characteristics that would be taken into account are race, age and gender. The data would be kept for "statistical purposes" and given annually to the Secretary of Public Safety and Security's Office.

Lawmakers for years argued about racial profiling in the RMV's data collection, which stalled agreements on the bill.

Should the Massachusetts Senate pass the bill, it could reach Gov. Charlie Baker's desk as soon as Wednesday. Baker included similar handheld devise use ban language in his own driving safety bill earlier this year.

If signed by the governor, the law would take effect 90 days later, though motorists would only receive warnings for violating the law until March 31, 2020.

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