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Distraction-Free Driving

Feb 21, 2020

This Sunday, February 23, 2020, a new law becomes effective in Massachusetts.  The hands-free driving law prohibits operators of motor vehicles from using any electronic device, including mobile telephones, unless the device is used in hands-free mode. Penalties for breaking this law will include up to a $500 fine, mandatory attendance at a distracted driving educational program, and possible auto insurance surcharges.

Why was the hands-free driving law enacted?  Many people might find themselves asking this question. Distracted driving has become rampant in today’s world, where technology is constantly available. Texting and driving is one of the most commonly seen type of distracted driving—and it’s not just teenagers and young adults. People of all ages and are guilty of distracted driving. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, distracted driving claimed 3,166 lives in 2017.

Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system—anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.

Texting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

You cannot drive safely unless the task of driving has your full attention. Any non-driving activity you engage in is a potential distraction and increases your risk of crashing.

A study by the AAA Foundation found that approximately 97% of drivers view texting or emailing while driving as a serious safety threat. Despite this, 45% of drivers report having read a text or email while driving in the past 30 days and nearly 35% typed one.

The new Massachusetts law limits the use of electronic devices as follows:

Drivers who are 18 and over

  • Can only use electronic devices and mobile phones in hands-free mode and are only permitted to touch devices to activate hands-free mode.
  • Are not permitted to hold or support any electronic device/phone.
  • Cannot touch their phone except to activate the hands-free mode and can only enable when the device is installed or properly mounted to the windshield, dashboard, or center console in a manner that does not impede the operation of the motor vehicle.
  • Are not allowed to touch device for texting, emailing, apps, video, or internet use.
  • Are permitted to activate a GPS navigation when the device is installed or properly mounted.
  • Handheld use is allowed only if the vehicle is both stationary and not located in a public travel lane or a bicycle lane, but is not allowed at red lights or stop signs.
  • Voice to text and communication to electronic devices is legal only when device is properly mounted; use of headphone (one ear) is permitted.

Drivers who are under 18 are not allowed to use any electronic devices. All phone use while driving is illegal, including use in hands-free mode.

Operators may use a cell phone to call 911 to report an emergency. If possible, safely pull over and stop before calling 911.

While distracted driving is a danger, it is important to remember other significant risks.

  • Drowsy driving
  • Driving while intoxicated
  • Excessive speed
  • Not wearing a seat belt
  • Not securing children in properly fitted car safety seats
  • Not watching for motorcycles, pedestrians, and bicyclists

All drivers share the road with hundreds if not thousands of other people every day.  It’s our responsibility to do so as safely as possible.  Using a cellphone or other electronic device while driving is not safe.  And, as of this Sunday, it will be illegal if not in hands-free mode.