What you need to know about new hands-free driving law
The ban takes effect on Sunday
IT’S TIME TO stop reading those emails while traffic is crawling on the Southeast Expressway.
Massachusetts’s ban on handheld cellphone use while driving goes into effect Sunday.
Gov. Charlie Baker said at a press conference Thursday that the new law will save lives. “Distracted driving is a tremendous risk for the driver, for the passengers in the vehicle and for anyone who happens to be on the other end of an accident that involves a distracted driver,” Baker said.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the goal of the policy is to change the culture around phone use while driving. “We all have some behavior changes to do,” Pollack said.
When will tickets start being written?
The ban becomes effective Sunday, February 23. But in order to give drivers time to get used to the new law, the police will only be issuing warnings for a first offense through the end of March. Warnings will be recorded on a driver’s record, so don’t expect to get off scot-free a second time.
On April 1, the police will start ticketing drivers who violate the law.
What will the punishment be for violating the law?
Drivers who violate the law will have to pay $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense, and $500 for a third or subsequent offense.
A two-time offender will have to take a course on distracted driving designed by the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
An insurance surcharge can be levied after a third violation.
Yes. Drivers may touch or swipe a cellphone once to activate hands-free mode and may then make or receive a phone call, as long as the phone is mounted in a cradle on the dashboard.
Can I hold my phone?
No. Holding any electronic device while driving will be illegal. Cell phones must be mounted on a console or dashboard.
Can I use the GPS on my phone?
Yes, as long as it is mounted and in hands-free mode.
Can I text or use social media while driving?
No. Texting has been banned since 2010. The new law prohibits reading or viewing text, images, or video while driving, other than for navigation.
What does this mean for ride-hailing drivers?
Lt. Mike Sonia of the State Police acknowledged that this could be tricky for drivers for ride-hailing services or delivery companies, who get pickup or delivery assignments via phone. Technically under the law, a driver would have to pull over to read a message.
A spokeswoman for Lyft said a driver can accept a pickup notice with a single swipe, in accordance with the law, then use navigation hands-free. Drivers can register drop-offs while they are parked. “Ahead of the law coming into effect, we are communicating with Massachusetts Lyft drivers about the requirements,” said Lyft spokeswoman Campbell Matthews. “We encourage drivers to use phone mounts, focus on the road, and stay fully aware of their surroundings while driving on our platform.”
What if I’m at a red light?
You cannot hold your phone while stopped in traffic or while sitting at a red light. Handheld cellphone use is only allowed in a car if you are pulled over and not in a travel lane.
What if there is an emergency?
You may use your phone in any manner in case of an emergency to call 911 or call for assistance. A driver may call for medical help, report being involved in or witnessing a car crash, or generally, call emergency services whenever necessary to ensure the safety of a driver, passenger, or someone else on the road.
What if I am under 18?
The use of a mobile device under any circumstances is prohibited for 16 and 17-year-old drivers.
Will the police be enforcing the law?
Yes. The State Police are adding extra patrols both now and once tickets are being written to focus specifically on pulling over drivers for cellphone use. State Police Col. Christopher Mason said there will be dozens of additional patrols added, some using unmarked cruisers. The officers will work in teams, with one officer acting as a spotter and another officer pulling drivers over.
Mason said patrols will be located throughout the state, but he expects a particular focus on congested areas and times, when drivers are most likely to be using their cellphones improperly.Are any measures in place to ensure the police aren’t racially profiling?
The police will be collecting racial data on every warning and every citation given. The data will be collected into annual reports. Any police department found to have engaged in profiling will have to undergo implicit bias training.