New Massachusetts hands-free driving law to go into effect in February 2020


closup of sterring wheel and woman's hands holding a cell phone
You might have been distracted over Thanksgiving and missed the news: Massachusetts enacted a hands-free driving law, making Massachusetts the 21st state to ban the use of all hand-held electronic devices while driving. This follows quickly on a similar Maine law which went into effect in September. Other neighboring states — Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island — also have hands-free driving laws on the books.

The new Massachusetts law bans any hand-held device while driving motor vehicles and bicycles. There are limited exceptions to allow for emergency reporting provisions. The law will take effect until Sunday, February 23, 2020, 90-days after the law was enacted. For about the first month, first-time violators will be issued warnings, but after that, fines will apply.

In Massachusetts Has A Hands-Free Driving Law: Four Items Everyone Needs To Know, Agency Checklists offers more details on the law, including penalties for violation:

According to the terms laid out in the new Bill, a first-time violation with result in a $100 fine, a second offense will be a $250 fine, followed by a $500 fine for a third or subsequent offense. While a first or second offense is not categorized as a “surchargeable incident” under the statute, a third or subsequent office will be considered as such.

For more on the new law, see What You Need To Know About The New Distracted Driving Law In Mass.

Hands-free driving laws in the Northeast

Maine’s Hands-free Driving Law went into effect on September 19, 2019. It prohibits the use of mobile telephones, handheld electronic devices and portable electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle, unless specifically exempted by law. Violations will be subject to no less than a $50 fine for the first offense and not less than $250 for a second or subsequent offense. The Chief Judge set the fine amount of $230.00 for a first offense and $325.00 for a second and subsequent offense.

New York state has been on the forefront of the distracted driving issue since enacting the nation’s first statewide handheld phone law, which took effect in November 2001.

Connecticut has had hands-free driving laws since 2005, prohibiting the use of any hand-held mobile electronic device while operating a motor vehicle. Penalties range from $150 for first-time offenders to $500 for a third offense. Drivers may also be subject to demerit points on their driving record.

New Hampshire has had a hands-free driving law since 2015, prohibiting all motorists from using a handheld cellphone or other device to text message or talk while driving.

Rhode Island’s hands-free driving law went into effect on June 1, 2018. Drivers cannot hold a cell phone or other wireless device while operating a vehicle. The use of headphones or other accessories that cover both ears also is not allowed.

For laws in other states, the Governors Highway Safety Association offers a listing of Distracted Driving Laws by state (but note that most recent developments such as the MA law may not yet be reflected)

Cellphone driving laws: Florida and Massachusetts


Florida has a new law that prohibits texting while driving, which went into effect July 1. It’s called the Wireless Communications While Driving Law. From now until January 1, 2020, drivers who break the law will get a warning, but after that, a $30 fine will be imposed for a first offense, and a $60 fine for a second offense. But that’s actually just the tip of the iceberg – there are court costs, insurance surcharges and more that can make breaking the law quite costly. Florida Today explains why your $30 ticket becomes way more expensive, breaking down additional court costs and fees that bring your actual first-time penalty to $119 in Brevard County. (Each county’s fees may differ)  In addition to that, your auto insurance rates could cost you up to 25% more per year for three years. That means that a quick text could be very costly!

Local 10 offers a recap of what you need to know about Florida’s new texting while driving law. There are some exceptions, which they list as:

“Some exceptions apply. The law does not apply to vehicles that are stationary or to a driver who is:
– Performing official duties, such as operating an emergency vehicle (i.e., law enforcement, fire service professionals, and emergency medical service providers).
– Reporting an emergency, a crime or other suspicious activity to law enforcement.
– Receiving messages that are:
a. related to the operation and/or navigation of the motor vehicle; b. safety-related information (emergency, traffic, and weather alerts); c. data used primarily by the motor vehicle; or d. radio broadcasts.
– Using the device in a hands-free manner for navigation purposes.
– Using the device in a way that does not require manual entry of characters, except to initiate a function or feature.”

Massachusetts cell-phone ban law in the works

Massachusetts residents take note: In June, Boston.com reported that a driver hand-held cellphone ban moves closer to becoming law. The Senate and the House have both approved versions of the law and must now reach agreement on a compromise bill. But be aware that proposed fines are costly:

The bill calls for a fine of $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a subsequent offense. Those who commit a second or subsequent offense would be required to complete a program that “encourages a change in driver behavior and attitude about distracted driving.”

A third or subsequent violation would also be a considered a surchargeable incident under car insurance policies. The bill would allow an exception to using cellphones in the case of an emergency if no one else in the car is able to make the call.

Driving & cellphone use laws by state

Here’s a handy tool to bookmark: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) maintains a summary of cell-phone use laws with maps and a detailed chart listing of cellphone use laws by state.

They summarize three types of prohibitions for cellphone use laws:

  • Hand-held ban laws: Bans on hand-held phone conversations while driving are widespread in other countries and are becoming more common in the U.S. In 2001, New York became the first state to ban hand-held phone conversations by all drivers. Now 20 states and the District of Columbia have similar laws.
  • Texting ban laws: Texting is banned for all drivers in 48 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Young driver phone ban use laws: 38 states and the District of Columbia restrict cellphone use by young drivers.

MA commercial truckers take note: New requirement to carry US DOT number in September


delivery trucks and vans

If you are a Massachusetts commercial trucker engaged in intrastate commerce take note: Effective September 1, 2018, you must obtain and display a US DOT number for designated vehicles. The number must be obtained and filed with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and made visible on vehicle markings by that date, as per 540 CMR 2.22, the Commercial Marking section of the Registry of Motor Vehicles regulations.

According to State Police, “failure to obtain and display a USDOT number on your vehicles may result in a civil fine and/or placing your CMVs Out of Service until such time as your company obtains a USDOT Number.”

What MA commercial vehicles does this affect?

According to the MA Association of Insurance Agents, “The changes could affect customers that are written on a Massachusetts Auto Policy class 30 such as plumbers, carpenters, electrician, etc.”

The MA Department of Public Utilities Transportation Oversight says that affected vehicles include those that are:

  • Engaged in intrastate commerce having a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 or more pounds; or
  • Used in the transportation of hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placarding; or
  • Designed to transport more than 15 passengers including the driver, used in intrastate commerce in Massachusetts.

Note: Intrastate operation means you conduct business solely within Massachusetts.

How do you obtain a US DOT number?

According to the MA State Police, to obtain a USDOT, go to the FMSCA website. Follow links to obtain an intrastate USDOT number. Your company will be issued a USDOT number that must be displayed on all CMVs that your company operates, including leased vehicles. There is no charge to obtain this number from the USDOT-FMCSA.

What are the new rules about DOT markings?

For guidance on displaying the DOT number on your vehicles, see:

 

Motorcycle Insurance Coverage and a Toolkit for Spring


Don’t let last week’s snow fool you – it’s just about time to take that motorcycle out of mothballs and get it on the road. But first, before you do anything else, check to be sure that you have motorcycle insurance to protect that investment.

The Insurance Information Institute (III) offers the lowdown on motorcycle insurance:

“Most states require motorcyclists to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance, to cover bodily injury and property damage costs caused to other people involved in an accident. In addition, uninsured/underinsured (UI/UIM) motorist coverage is recommended, or even required, in many states as part of a motorcyclist’s policy to cover expenses for damage were caused by another driver who either does not have insurance, or whose insurance is inadequate.
The mandatory minimum limits for these coverages in states where they are required for motorcyclists are generally similar to those required for automobiles.”

We think its a good idea to have some of the optional coverages, too: collision, first party medical coverage, emergency road service and coverage for customization and equipment.

III offers more details on motorcycle coverage here with tips on saving money such as a lay-up policy or those who suspend use in the winter and multibike discounts.

Motorcycle laws, safety tools & other resources

msfThe Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) is an internationally recognized developer of the comprehensive, research-based, Rider Education and Training System (RETS). Some insurers offer discounts for certified safety training so check to see if your insurer does. In addition to courses, MSF offers many free resources in their online library. One we like is the booklet You and Your Motorcycle Riding Tips – MSF says that many manufacturers include this booklet with their new motorcycles. They also have similar booklets for 3-wheeled motorcycles and scooters. Their Tire Guide looks pretty handy, too.

The American Motorcyclist Association has a good resource on motorcycle laws by state.
The guides cover information like eye protection, handlebar height, lane splitting and other information that bikers need to know.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has a good guide on Motorcycle helmet laws by state. They note that, “Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet, known as universal helmet laws. Laws requiring only some motorcyclists to wear a helmet are in place in 28 states. There is no motorcycle helmet use law in three states (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire).” IIHS also has a good Q&A about motorcycle safety and related topics

BikeBandit offers some excellent tips on how to prep your motorcycle for spring – he touches on everything from batteries to fluids.

Powerful video reminders: stay focused while driving this summer


A public service ad from Volkswagon uses a clever and persuasive way to drive home an important point.

A public service announcement from Honda illustrates things from a different perspective

This moving AT&T documentary shows just how quickly life can change

A California graphic designer takes photos of people texting while driving and uploads them to a site called TwitSpotting – he feeds these images to billboards in San Francisco

Gauging Your Distraction – Interactive game

From One Second to the Next: Powerful
Director Werner Herzog’s 35-minute documentary film takes a tough look at the aftermath of a split second error – texting while driving.

Distracted Driving Laws