Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation to improve road safety in the Commonwealth Monday, which stipulates that no motor vehicle operator may use electronic devices while driving unless the technology is being used hands-free.
The legislation, which adopts recommendations from the Commonwealth’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan, also sets forth penalties for violating the law and requires that law enforcement officers report data on violations so the information can be shared with the public.
Governor Baker was joined at the signing ceremony by Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, state leaders, officials with the National Transportation Safety Board, and representatives from advocacy groups, including, the Vision Zero Coalition, Safe Roads Alliance, LiveableStreets Alliance, WalkBoston, MassBike and Boston Cyclists Union. The Governor acknowledged the work of stakeholders for efforts to get hands-free legislation passed and thanked the families of victims for sharing their personal stories during legislative hearings.
“Our Administration is committed to keeping the Commonwealth’s network of roads safe, and this legislation will substantially reduce distracted driving and hold operators accountable when they are looking at an electronic device instead of looking at the road ahead,” said Governor Baker. “We are especially grateful for the many advocates and families that passionately fought to bring this bill to fruition, are thankful for the Legislature’s collaboration on this bill and look forward to continued efforts to improve road safety in Massachusetts.”
Under the new law, titled An Act requiring the hands-free use of mobile telephones while driving, operators of motor vehicles and bicycles cannot use an electronic device unless the device is being used in hands-free mode. Operators cannot read or view text or look at images or video, unless what is being viewed on the device is helping with navigation and the device is mounted in an appropriate location. They also cannot make phone calls unless they are able to do so without holding the phone, utilizing technology such as Bluetooth.
The new law permits the use of electronic devices if they are being used in response to an emergency, necessary for first responders to do their jobs. It also permits use if operators are stationary and not in active lanes of travel.
Punishment for violating the hands-free law includes a $100 fine for a first offense, $250 fine for a second offense and $500 fine for a third or subsequent offense. A third or subsequent offense will count as a surchargeable incident. Operators who commit a second or subsequent offense are required to complete an educational program focused on distracted driving prevention.
“The hands-free legislation is now law in Massachusetts thanks to the tireless work of advocates and victims’ families,” said Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. “Legislators were moved to action after hearing the personal stories of people who have lost loved ones in traffic crashes. Advocacy groups were with the families every step of the way and marshaled support for this bill. I would like to thank the Vision Zero Coalition, Safe Roads Alliance, LiveableStreets, WalkBoston and many other pedestrian and bicycle advocacy groups for their efforts and I look forward to continuing our collaboration to get additional road safety bills passed during the next legislative session.”
Said Stacy Thompson, LivableStreets Alliance Executive director, “We are grateful for the leadership and partnership of the Baker-Polito Administration in moving this life-saving law forward. This is an important step toward achieving Vision Zero in Massachusetts and we look forward to working with the Administration and Legislature to advance several other critical road safety bills in the new year.”
The hands-free law takes effect 90 days after passage and has reporting requirements for law enforcement officers who make traffic stops. They must make note of data, including the age, race and gender of individuals issued a warning or citation. The Registry of Motor Vehicles will house the data and the Secretary of Public Safety’s office will annually release the information to the public. The new law sets forth a process in the event there are suspicions a law enforcement entity may be engaging in racial profiling.