New Distracted Driving Law in Massachusetts

As of February 23, 2020, Massachusetts law will prohibit drivers and cyclists from using any electronic device, such as a cell phone, unless the device is in hands-free mode. Police will give operators a grace period through the end of March, issuing only warnings to first time offenders rather than fines. Are you prepared for the change?

How Does This Effect You?

This explanation of what is and is not permissible under the new law comes from Mass.gov.

Drivers 18+

  • Can only use electronic devices and mobile phones in hands-free mode and are only permitted to touch devices to activate hands-free mode.
  • Not permitted to hold or support any electronic device/phone.
  • Cannot touch phone except to activate the hands-free mode and can only enable when the device is installed or properly mounted to the windshield, dashboard, or center console in a manner that does not impede the operation of the motor vehicle.
  • Not allowed to touch device for texting, emailing, apps, video, or internet use.
  • Activation of GPS navigation is permitted when the device is installed or properly mounted.
  • Handheld use is allowed only if the vehicle is both stationary and not located in a public travel lane or a bicycle lane, but is not allowed at red lights or stop signs.
  • Voice to text and communication to electronic devices is legal only when device is properly mounted; use of headphone (one ear) is permitted.

Drivers Under 18

  • Are not allowed to use any electronic devices. All phone use while driving is illegal, including use in hands-free mode.

In the event of an emergency, drivers may use a hand-held device to call 911, but it is recommended that they attempt to pull off the road first, if possible.

Download this information in pamphlet form

Penalties

Starting April 1, police will start issuing fines for those caught using their handheld devices behind the wheel (or the handlebars). 

  • First offense = $100 fine
  • Second offense = $250 fine, plus completion of a distracted driving course
  • Third and subsequent offenses = $500 fine, plus completion of a distracted driving course and likely an insurance surcharge

Data Collection

While Massachusetts banned texting while driving in 2010, it’s the last of the New England states to ban all hand-held devices while driving. The bill’s enactment stalled, in part, because of concerns about RMV data collection and racial profiling. During this new law’s enforcement, police officers will collect data, like race, age, and gender, of any driver given a citation or warning for violating the hands-free law. This data should help track whether any departments are engaging in racial or gender profiling; if they are, they will be required to participate in bias training.

The goal of this distracted driving law is to make the roads safer for everyone, but cell phones aren’t the only sources of distraction for drivers. People eat and drink while driving, put on makeup, have conversations with their passengers, play with the radio, deal with unruly pets, change their clothes, shave, smoke, dig around in their bags… while none of these are addressed by the new law and probably won’t get you pulled over, they’re dangerous nonetheless. The more of us who keep our focus on the roads, the fewer accidents will occur… and the lower your auto insurance premiums will be!