• Paul Peter Nicolai

New Mass Distracted-Driving Law

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

The Governor has signed An Act Requiring the Hands-Free Use of Mobile Telephones While Driving. The law takes effect 90 days from November 25.

The law focuses on "electronic devices." The presumption will be that any iPhone, smart phone, tablet, GPS system or other electronic item that someone may use in a vehicle will be subject to this law.

Violators face new penalties that may include fines, remedial education and insurance premium surcharges.

The law says hands-free mode means that a user engages in a voice communication or receives audio without touching or holding the device. The measure permits drivers to execute a single tap or swipe to activate, deactivate or initiate the hands-free mode feature.

What’s prohibited?

  • No operator of a motor vehicle shall hold a mobile electronic device.

  • No operator of a motor vehicle shall use a mobile electronic device unless the device is being used in hands-free mode.

  • No operator of a motor vehicle shall read or view text, images or video displayed on a mobile electronic device.

What’s permitted?

  • An operator may view a map generated by a navigation system or application on a mobile electronic device is mounted on or affixed to a vehicle’s windshield, dashboard or center console in a manner that does not impede the operation of the motor vehicle.

  • An operator is not considered to be operating a motor vehicle if the vehicle is stationary and not located in a part of the public way intended for travel by a motor vehicle or bicycle.

  • The law provides for limited exceptions such as the use of a mobile electronic device in response to an emergency. The law defines an emergency as when the vehicle’s operator needed to report that:

  1. the vehicle was disabled;

  2. medical attention or assistance was required;

  3. police intervention, fire department or other emergency services were necessary for the personal safety of the operator or a passenger or to otherwise ensure the safety of the public; or

  4. a disabled vehicle or an accident was present on a roadway.

The fines under this statute are:

  • first offense-$100

  • second offense-$250; and

  • third and subsequent offenses-$500.

An operator who commits a second or subsequent offense is required to complete a program selected by the registrar of motor vehicles that encourages a change in driver behavior and attitude about distracted driving. It is likely that if there is any fee associated with attending this class, the cost will be borne by the person.

The law also provides that if a person commits a third or subsequent offense it will be a surchargeable event against the driver’s insurance.

An operator found to be violating the law the first time will receive a warning up until March 31, 2020. After that, the law will be fully effective.

Employers should already have policies in place that prohibit the use of handheld electronic devices while driving since this is a law in a number of states already. Massachusetts employers who may not have that kind of policy should consider implementing it.

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