In 90 days unless you have Bluetooth or other hands-free options inside you car, you will face harsh fines for talking, texting or reading text messages while driving.
Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation to improve road safety in the Commonwealth, which stipulates that no motor vehicle operator may use electronic devices while driving unless the technology is being used hands-free.
Punishment for violating the hands-free law includes a $100 fine for a first offense, $250 fine for a second offense and $500 fine for a third or subsequent offense. A third or subsequent offense will count as a surchargeable incident. Operators who commit a second or subsequent offense are required to complete an educational program focused on distracted driving prevention.
“Our Administration is committed to keeping the Commonwealth’s network of roads safe, and this legislation will substantially reduce distracted driving and hold operators accountable when they are looking at an electronic device instead of looking at the road ahead,” said Gov. Baker. “We are especially grateful for the many advocates and families that passionately fought to bring this bill to fruition, are thankful for the Legislature’s collaboration on this bill and look forward to continued efforts to improve road safety in Massachusetts.”
According to the new law, operators of motor vehicles and bicycles cannot use an electronic device unless the device is being used in hands-free mode. Operators cannot read or view text or look at images or video, unless what is being viewed on the device is helping with navigation and the device is mounted in an appropriate location. They also cannot make phone calls unless they are able to do so without holding the phone, utilizing technology such as Bluetooth.
The new law permits the use of electronic devices if they are being used in response to an emergency, necessary for first responders to do their jobs. It also permits use if operators are stationary and not in active lanes of travel.
“I was proud to support this bill, which will make our streets safer,” said Rep. Adrian Madaro, Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation. “Improving our data collection laws increases transparency in our communities and addresses implicit bias in traffic stops. In addition, cracking down on distracted driving will save lives by keeping drivers’ eyes on the road and off their phones.”
The hands-free law takes effect 90 days after passage and has reporting requirements for law enforcement officers who make traffic stops. They must make note of data, including the age, race and gender of individuals issued a warning or citation. The Registry of Motor Vehicles will house the data and the Secretary of Public Safety’s office will annually release the information to the public. The new law sets forth a process in the event there are suspicions a law enforcement entity may be engaging in racial profiling.
“This bill will improve the safety of our streets and promote transparency in law enforcement,” said Sen. Joe Boncore, Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation. “Distracted driving is an epidemic, and this bill will save lives. Further, by updating our data collection laws, we will better understand and improve our communities’ interactions with public safety officials.”