November 26, 2019
Yesterday Governor Charlie Baker signed into law the hands-free driving bill in Massachusetts. The bill was enacted by the Legislature on November 20, 2019, and is entitled “An Act Requiring The Hands-Free Use Of Mobile Telephones While Driving.”
The law takes effect Sunday, February 23, 2020, (ninety days from November 25th).
The newly enacted law states that, “No operator of a motor vehicle shall hold a mobile electronic device” or “use a mobile electronic device unless the device is being used in hands-free mode.”
What does it mean to be “hands-free”
“Hands-free mode” is defined as use without the user holding or touching the device except to initiate the hands-mode feature of the device. Hands-free can involve using voice-to-text technology, Bluetooth, or auxiliary systems and the use of mounts for holding electronic devices. Under the new law, the use of all electronic devices are forbidden unless they are used with hands-free methods. Drivers can still use navigation systems as long as they are mounted on the dashboard, windshield, or center console. The law also states that a “single tap or swipe” to activate or deactivate hands-free mode is permitted.
The law applies to both operators of motor vehicles and bicycles and does allow for “emergency” use of a hand-held device to report that:
- Medical attention or assistance is required;
- The vehicle is disabled;
- Police intervention, fire department or other emergency services are necessary for the safety of the operator or a passenger or to otherwise ensure the safety of the public;
- a disabled vehicle or an accident was present on a roadway.
Three offenses results in a surcharge
According to the new Bill:
- a first-time violation with result in a $100 fine,
- a second offense will be a $250 fine,
- a third or subsequent offense will result in a $500 fine.
While a first or second offense is not categorized as a “surchargeable incident” under the law, a third or subsequent office will be considered surchargeable. Also, after a second or subsequent offense, operators will be required to complete an educational program on distracted driving prevention. A surchargeable offense may effect your auto insurance premiums for up to 6 years.
Grace period for offenders until March 31, 2020
Although the new law takes effect on February 23, 2020, first-time violators who are cited between February 23, 2020 until March 31, 2020, will receive warnings. The enactment provision of the law states, “notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, an operator of a motor vehicle shall be issued a warning for a first violation…for conduct other than the typing or reading of an electronic message occurring after the effective date of this act until March 31, 2020, inclusive.”
Therefore, fines will begin to be issued as of April 1, 2020.
Driving distracted has tragic consequences
While everyone is aware that driving distracted and texting and driving is dangerous, in order to become a safer driver it is important to know just how serious the consequences are.
- Texting while driving causes 1.6 million car accidents in the US every year
- 14% of all deadly crashes in the United States involved the use of a cell phone
- In 2018, the number of deaths related to cell phone use in car accidents was 4,637 in the US alone
- Almost 390,000 injuries occur annually in the United States due to texting and driving
- In America, during daylight hours, approximately 481,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving, (as reported by the NHTSA)
The law is an important step in making Massachusetts roads safer for all travelers. McSweeney & Ricci has long promoted safe driving and has held events such as the “Driving to Save Lives Golf Classic” to benefit In Control Crash Prevention Training as well as annually hosting Arbella Insurance’s Distractology simulator at local high schools, to teach students the importance of not driving distracted. A surchargeable offense, can cause your auto insurance premium to be higher for six years and McSweeney & Ricci understands that no one enjoys paying more for their insurance. We urge you to begin complying with the new law and go “hands-free” now, to avoid surcharge and help make the roads safer for all of us.
For more information about the law and a Hands-Free Driving Pamphlet from mass.gov click here.
For questions regarding the new law, feel free to contact us at (844) 501-1359.