Governor Baker has signed the Hands-Free Driving Bill into law
Massachusetts finally has a hands-free driving law. Yesterday afternoon, Governor Baker signed, as expected, a bill enacted by the Legislature on November 20, 2019, entitled “An Act Requiring The Hands-Free Use Of Mobile Telephones While Driving.” The law does not have an emergency preamble so it will not take effect until Sunday, February 23, 2020, ninety days from November 25th.
Massachusetts newly enacted Hands Free Driving law amends M.G.L. c. 90, § 13B and states that, “No operator of a motor vehicle shall hold a mobile electronic device” or “use a mobile electronic device unless the device is being used in hands-free mode.” The statute defines “hands-free mode” as use without the user holding or touching the device except to initiate the hands-mode feature of the device.
The law which applies to both operators of motor vehicles and bicycles does allow “emergency” use of a hand-held device to report that:
- The vehicle was disabled;
- Medical attention or assistance was required;
- 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;
- a disabled vehicle or an accident was present on a roadway.
At a State House ceremony, attended by families who had lost loved ones to distracted drivers using cellphones and the legislators who pushed a comprise through to the Governor’s desk, His Excellency the Governor signed the distracted driving bill stating, “This bill is a major step in our ongoing work to keep our roads safe. We are especially grateful for the many advocates and families who passionately fought for this bill. We look forward to working with our legislative colleagues to make more progress in this area soon.”
The passage of a hands-free driving law has been a long process
Massachusetts legislators have long sought to enact a law addressing this issue, but have sparred over various issues such as data collection included as part of the proposed bill. Last Monday, November 18th, however, a new movement to enact a law on this issue began in the House. After several compromises, a version ultimately passed the Senate and the bill was laid before the Governor late last week.
According to Cambridge-based telematics company True Motion, which has long supported such a bill, there is “…one distracted driving incident per minute in front of Massachusetts’ State House.” On July 23, 2018, the company reported in a blog post that it had sat in front of the State House, at the corner of Beacon and Park Streets every day from 8:30 to 9:30 AM for a week counting distracted drivers. “This included anyone who was using their phone texting (illegal), dialing (legal), and making handheld phone calls (legal then).” After a week’s time, the start-up said it had counted over “…300 distracted driving incidents in just 5 hours – one per minute.”
A third-offense under the New Hands-Free Driving Bill Will Result in a Surcharge
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.
(e) A first or second offense under this section or section 8M shall not be a surchargeable 66 incident under section 113B of chapter 175 or under a motor vehicle liability policy as defined in 67 section 34A that is issued pursuant to said chapter 175; provided, however, that a third or 68 subsequent offense under this section or section 8M shall be a surchargeable incident under said 69 section 113B of said chapter 175 or under a motor vehicle liability policy as defined in said 70 section 34A that is issued pursuant to said chapter 175.
After a second or subsequent offense, operators will be required to complete an educational program on distracted driving prevention.
Short grace period for first-time offenders until March 31, 2020
Although the law will take effect on February 23, 2020, first-time violators cited from February 23, 2020 until March 31, 2020, will receive warnings. The enactment provision of the law provides, “notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, an operator of a motor vehicle shall be issued a warning for a first violation…for conduct other than the typing or reading of an electronic message occurring after the effective date of this act until March 31, 2020, inclusive.”
Other provisions included in the newly enacted law
Another major issue that has prevented earlier Hands-Free Driving Bills to pass was the issue of data collected as part of the enforcement of a potential hands-free bill. In particular, those opposed to wide data collection feared that such information could be used for purposes such as racial profiling. The Bill, however, includes various provisions dealing with the collection and storage of data as well as safeguards in which to prevent potential misuse of the information collected.
The new law also requires the Secretary of Public Safety and Security to issue an annual public report based on the data collected throughout the year.
How to access a copy of the Bill
For those interested in accessing an official copy of H.4203, which is the version that was signed into law by Governor Baker, you can do so here.