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)

Harness technology to curb distracted driving


Thanks to advances in technology, cars are safer than ever. But the number of road fatalities have increased significantly. The reason why is in your pocket: your smartphone.

Drivers distracted by their phones were involved in more than half the accidents tallied in a recent study by Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT) that assessed data from hundreds of thousands of accidents on US roadways.

Many states have passed laws limiting or even banning smartphone use while behind the wheel, but the results of these restrictions have been marginal at best. The Insurance Information Institute says smartphone use while driving is still increasing, especially among younger drivers, who are also the group at greatest risk of being involved in a crash. The National Safety Council estimates 11 teenagers die every day in the US in vehicle accidents involving texting while driving.

But let’s face it: we’re not going to keep our phones in our pockets while we’re on the road. For all the dangers they present, they’re also hugely useful. We use them to navigate, to inform us of road construction and detours, and to warn us of weather hazards. Smartphone apps are even used as electronic keys on some recent high-tech vehicles!

Phone manufacturers and software developers are aware of these issues. Android users can install Android Auto, an app developed by Google which features voice support, oversized buttons, and the ability to send an automatic text to incoming callers or texters letting them know you’re on the road. Apple’s iPhone users have a similar set of tech tools at their fingertips: CarPlay integrates with many modern automotive software suites. For those of us with older vehicles, the iPhone’s Do Not Disturb menu allows you to shut off distracting calls and notifications.

There are a slew of third-party apps designed to reinforce good driving habits and discourage fiddling with your phone while at the wheel. Some rely on the smartphone’s sensors, some require additional hardware. CMT’s DriveWell, EverDrive by EverQuote, AT&T’s DriveMode, Bouncie, Cellcontrol, and SafeRide are among the many options to choose from in this ever-growing niche.

Many car insurance carriers offer monitoring equipment that rewards good driving habits with lower premiums – ask your independent insurance agent about details.

So put technology to work for you! Dock your phone or lock your phone, keep your hands at ten and two, turn on voice commands, relax, and enjoy the (safe and undistracted) drive!

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Distracted Driving Laws

Cell Phones and Distracted Driving


Cell phones have become ingrained in our culture in an amazingly short time. As a nation, we’ve become accustomed to being available to make or take calls 24/7, no matter where we are. Although the convenience of a cell phone cannot be understated, it’s time to step back a little and be more careful with our phones. 99% of the time, there really isn’t any reason to use your phone while you’re driving. If the call is that important, pull over, stop and take it then.
Studies show that using a cell phone while driving is just about as dangerous as drinking and driving, as shown graphically in this video from 20/20. Yet states have been slow to ban their use outright, with only nine states currently banning the use of hand held phones while driving and 35 more banning texting while driving. That may be changing, as the National Transportation Safety Board has recently released a FAQ sheet on the dangers of distracted driving (PDF) and is calling for a national ban. The idea of a nationwide ban is gaining traction, due partly to a study recently released by California, where traffic deaths have declined by 22% in the two years since hand held cell phone use while driving was banned.
If the ban is passed in all fifty states, how will it affect car insurance rates? Since policies vary so much from state to state, it’s difficult to say. Currently, in New York, being ticketed for cell phone use results in three violation points on your driving record, and a fine up to $100, along with other mandatory fees and surcharges up to $85. The penalties are the same for texting or e-mail use while driving, except the maximum base fine goes up to $150.
Here’s a chart of current State Cell Phone Use & Texting While Driving Laws.