Massachusetts Hands-Free Law Update: Fines Can Begin April 1, 2020
As of today April 1, Massachusetts police departments can start to issue citations and fines to drivers who violate the Massachusetts hands-free driving law. We encourage you to follow the Massachusetts COVID-19 “Stay at Home” advisory. But if you have to go out, you can help yourself drive more safely and avoid a fine by checking that your car is set up for hands-free mode. Even better? Read this update, but turn off your cell phone while driving. Many of us are exhausted and out-of-routine. Focus on the roads and what you need to get done, so you can get back home.
So far, many drivers are still picking up phones, despite the new law. During the initial grace period from Feb. 23-Mar. 31, police issued 4,500 written warnings across Massachusetts, according to a state official interviewed by WGBH. The official said drivers must become aware of both the law and that police are watching.
“…the police officers I’ve talked to seem to say that everyone who is pulled over says, “Yes, I’ve heard about it. Sorry. My mistake,” said Jeff Larason, director of highway safety at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety. (Listen to the WGBH segment in full).
Massachusetts passed a texting while driving law in 2010 but lawmakers spent nearly 10 years debating the handheld cell phone ban.
The Massachusetts hands-free driving law was passed by the Massachusetts Legislature in November 2019 and quickly signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Nov. 29. To help drivers get ready, the state granted an initial grace period. Larason told WGBH 4,500 drivers had received written warnings (broadcast date: March 13). The Boston Globe reported State Police had issued 578 warnings to drivers, in just the first week. On Cape Cod, local police reported 150 verbal or written warnings in the first week (Source: South Coast Today via Cape Cod Times).
What the law allows and bans:
- The law states drivers cannot use any electronic device, including mobile telephones, unless the device is being operated in hands-free mode.
- Drivers can only touch cell phones and mobile phones once to activate hands-free mode.
- Cell phones must be properly mounted to the windshield, dashboard or center console and not impede with operation. This is the only way drivers are allowed to use GPS or voice to text technology such as Bluetooth.
- Drivers are specifically not allowed to touch phones for texting and emailing. Use of apps, video or Internet is also prohibited.
- Drivers who are 18 and younger are not allowed to use cell phones behind the wheel. Hands-free is illegal and can result in violation of their Massachusetts Junior Operator’s License.
- You may be stopped. But you are not allowed to pick up your phone at red lights or stop lights.
- You can pick up your cell phone and make a call if you are in a stationary position, outside a travel lane or bicycle lane.
- There is also an exemption for emergency professionals who need to pick up the phone for calls and those calling 911. 911 calls must be taken seriously. The state advises drivers to make every attempt to pull over before calling 911 – even if you are in hands-free mode.
Violations of the Massachusetts Hands-Free Driving Law
Police in Massachusetts can now start issuing tickets. Here are the penalties:
First offense: $100 fine.
Second offense: $250 fine and distracted driving education.
Third offense: $500 fine and distracted driving education.
With a third offense, you may face an insurance surcharge.
Massachusetts hands-free driving law, Mass.gov
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With more than 100 years combined experience, Breakstone, White & Gluck specializes in representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases involving car accidents, truck accidents, pedestrian accidents and bicycle accidents. Our attorneys have extensive experience handling cases for clients injured by negligent use of cell phones and texting while driving. We represent clients across the state of Massachusetts in car accident cases, including in Boston, the North Shore, the South Shore and Cape Cod.
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