What to Know: Massachusetts’ Hands-Free Driving Bill

Penalties for violating the hands-free driving law will range from a $100 to $500 fine

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has signed a long-awaited bill that makes it illegal to hold a cellphone while driving in the Bay State.

The law aims to eliminate distracted driving by criminalizing the act of holding a cellphone while behind the wheel. 

Here's what to know about the law that has been years in the making:

What does hands-free mean?

Hands-free driving is defined as cellphone use while behind the wheel without the use of your hands. Such methods can involve using voice-to-text technology, auxiliary systems or Bluetooth and the use of mounts that could hold electronic devices.

Under the new bill, the use of all electronic devices would be forbidden unless they are used with hands-free methods. Drivers could still use navigation systems if they are mounted on the dashboard, center console or windshield.

The bill states that a "single tap or swipe" to activate or deactivate hands-free mode is permitted.

Penalties

Fines for those who disobey the law would range from $100 to $500.

First-time offenders would face a $100 fine, $250 fines would be issued for second offenses and a third or any subsequent offense would face a $500 fine and woudl also draw auto insurance surcharges.

In addition to the fines, drivers who commit a second or subsequent offenses would be required to complete a Registry of Motor Vehicles program about distracted driving.

When does it take effect? 

The law will take effect Feb. 23, 2020. However, a grace period will be implemented through March 31 during which first-time offenders would receive only a warning.

Data collection

The RMV will collect data from any Massachusetts drivers who are cited or receive a warning for violating the law.

Characteristics that would be taken into account are race, age and gender. The data would be kept for "statistical purposes" and given annually to the Secretary of Public Safety and Security's Office.

Lawmakers for years argued about racial profiling in the RMV's data collection, which stalled agreements on the bill.

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