Governor Charlie Baker recently signed into law a new ban on using cellphones and other electronic handheld devices while driving. When it takes effect, it will change the rules of the road in Massachusetts for good – and has plenty of implications that are important to learn. Even without this law in effect yet, if you are involved in a vehicular accident where the other person was using a cell phone or other device, contact Altman & Altman LLP right away to get working on a claim.
What to know about the new law
The new ban on cell phones and electronic devices will go into full effect on February 23 – 90 days after it was passed through the legislature and signed into law by Governor Baker. However, motorists will receive warnings for their first violation until April 1, as a grace period will bridge the gap between the law going into effect and being fully enforceable by law enforcement officers.
To simplify the language of the law, it will effectively ban the use of any electronic device that takes your hands and attention away from focusing on the task of driving safely. This means that in order to call somebody or use other features of a cellular device, you will need to have a hands-free system of some sort – such as Bluetooth – set up within the vehicle, so you can activate it with buttons on the car’s steering wheel or through voice activation. The law does allow for so-called “single tap or swipe” actions to activate hands-free modes, if necessary.
The law bars drivers from reading text messages, continues existing prohibition on texting while driving and restricts motorists from looking at pictures or videos while driving – with the one major exception being apps used for navigation, like Google Maps or other GPS services. However, the phone must be mounted in a location that doesn’t obstruct the driver, such as in the corner of the windshield, on the dashboard or in the center console.
In addition to the new specifically prohibited actions, the law also allows for use of handheld electronics in a few specific instances, including:
- Emergency situations where a call must be placed for medical attention, or an emergency call put in to police or fire departments
- Situations where you are reporting a motor vehicle accident or disabled vehicle that you have witnessed
- First responders who are on duty and driving emergency service vehicles are exempt from the law
- Situations where the motorist is at rest, completely stationary, and not in an active lane of travel – meaning you cannot use your phone while simply stuck in traffic
Violations of the law can result in being pulled over by a police officer – which will result in a $100 for the first offense. Repeat offenders can be charged $250 for the second violation and $500 for the third and each subsequent offense. Additionally, the third violation and beyond will have consequences on your car insurance rates. Those with more than one violation will be mandated to complete a distracted driving program.
Contrary to some belief, the law does not apply to bicyclists, and it applies only to motor vehicles. Continue reading