What you need to know about the new Massachusetts law requiring drivers to use their mobile devices in hands-free mode

Texting, watching YouTube videos, checking email, calling a friend, all of these are normal everyday things that most of us do on our cell phones. However, when you’re operating a vehicle, holding your phone, and attempting to do any or all of these things, has been proven to dangerously distract you from the task at hand – driving your car.

Now, a new Massachusetts law, titled An Act Requiring The Hands-Free Use Of Mobile Telephones While Driving, is aimed at trying to curb these risky driving behaviors. You may have already heard rumblings about this law as it’s been in the works for almost two decades. It was finally signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker in November 2019.

While these new road rules do not go into effect until February 23, 2020, the Lighthouse team wants to give you fair warning about what this law means for your cell phone use while driving.

The most important thing to know about this law is that drivers caught using hand-held phones while operating their vehicle – or even while stopped in an active lane of traffic – are probably going to receive a hefty fine.

What are the fines for the new hands-free law in Massachusetts?

For your first offense, you will be charged $100. Then, $250 for the second offense. And then, for the third and any subsequent offenses, you can expect to be hit with a $500 fine (each time). These fines are substantial. Definitely enough to make you think twice about texting your BFF about your Friday night plans while driving home from work!

Instead of racking up fines from the staties, the Lighthouse team encourages you to make a much smaller investment in some simple hands-free technology. A cell phone mount that attaches to your cup holder, window, CD player, or air vent should only cost you about $15 to $30. Along with a Bluetooth device, you might be looking at spending about $60.

To us, this outlay of cash is well worth it. And not just because these purchases will hopefully help you avoid costly tickets. Going hands-free also means that you should be safer behind the wheel. In addition, you will be keeping the roadways much safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other drivers who are often the victims when there is an accident resulting from distracted driving.

We do want to acknowledge that there is a grace period between February 23rd and March 31st for drivers caught holding their phones. Police may still pull you over for not following the law, but they will likely just give you a warning. However, starting April 1, 2020, expect to get a fine for your lawless behavior.

What does the hands-free law in Massachusetts say drivers can do?

The new law explicitly outlines a few very simple – and legal – ways to use your hands-free phone while driving:

  • You can use your voice controls to ask Siri, Alexa, or your Google assistant to dial a number or read a text for you.
  • You can use your phone’s GPS to help with navigation.
  • You can swipe your phone once to activate or deactivate hands-free mode.
  • You can also use your phone to ask for medical assistance and to report a road emergency or accident to the police.

While these are the examples that we found specifically spelled out in the law itself, there are probably several other ways you can think of to use your smart device while driving that will not require you to pick it up. In fact, if your car is less than five years old, it is very likely you have Bluetooth and GPS built right into your stereo system, making this new law a piece of cake to follow.

Why did Massachusetts pass a hands-free driving law after all this time?

As you most likely know, texting while driving has been illegal in the Bay State for a decade. Even just shooting off a quick, “Traffic sucks!” text while stuck in a traffic jam on 93 is considered breaking this law.

However, as you’ve probably seen when you’re on the roadways, this law really hasn’t changed many people’s cell phone behaviors. In fact, there have continued to be an alarming amount of pedestrian accidents and car crashes due to drivers who were distracted by their hand-held mobile devices.

According to Mass.gov, car accidents due to distracted driving rose 170% from 2014 to 2016. And, that’s not the only eye-opening statistic we found. In 2018, a report issued by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) stated that 6,227 pedestrians were killed in automobile crashes nationwide, the highest mortality rate since 1990, and one that is, unfortunately, still climbing.

Massachusetts’ hands-free cell phone law finally came to fruition because of the tireless efforts of a diverse group of lawmakers, advocacy groups, and people like you and us, who want to see these tragic numbers rapidly decline.

A final thought on this law from the Lighthouse team.

As an agency that specializes in commercial vehicle insurance, mainly taxicabs, we get claims almost daily that demonstrate to us that distracted driving is truly a crisis that needs to be addressed right now. As your local, South Boston insurance agent, we want you to be informed about the new Massachusetts law that aims at tackling this issue. But, most importantly, we want you to be safe.

Not only can a safe driving record, well, keep you safe, it can also possibly save you money on your auto insurance in the form of safe driving credits. Give us a call, 617-464-3777, to ask us about the Disappearing Deductible endorsement. This powerful addition to a comprehensive auto policy is one more way that working with a local agent like Lighthouse can benefit you.