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)

Cool tools for drivers


toy car on an interstate map

Are you planning a summer road trip? Does your work take you on the road for frequent state-to-state travel? Do you regularly visit family that live in another part of the country? If so, you might find this tool handy: The AAA Digest of Motor Laws. It’s an online compendium of laws and rules related to driving and owning a motor vehicle in the 50 U.S. states, territories, and the provinces of Canada. AAA began producing this digest in paper form in 1930. In 2011, it eliminated the paper version and brought it online.

The online version allows you to search by location or by law. You can view laws by specific topics, such as accident reporting, distracted driving, window tinting, “move over” laws, headlight use, impaired driving, licensing requirements, seat belt use and much more.

AAA says that it sources its content by compiling statutes and regulations and submissions from local and state jurisdictions. The digest principally covers general interest subjects on private passenger vehicles, but some limited coverage of laws governing commercial vehicles is included, as are some special laws relating to motorcycles, mopeds, and trailers. AAA also offers a note of caution: “The state laws reflected on this website do not necessarily reflect traffic safety best practices.”

If you’ll be living in another state for a period of time or you have an out-of-state student on your auto policy, you might want to talk insurance implications over with your independent insurance agent.

More useful driver tools

AAA has other handy tools for drivers such as Gas Prices, which monitors pricing nationally and by state, and offers a gas cost calculator to help you gauge the cost of a planned trip. They also sponsor the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which offers information, research and tools on a variety of road safety issues. Here are three that we think are very useful:

  • Keys2Drive – tools to help parents and teens throughout the whole learning-to-drive process.
  • Senior Driver Licensing Policies and Practices – “one stop shopping” for information on state driver licensing policies and practices affecting older and medically-at-risk drivers.
  • RoadwiseRx – a tool for understanding how medications may affect you and your driving. Type a name of a prescribed or over-the-counter medication you are taking to learn about any potential driver warnings.