A new Massachusetts traffic law took effect on February 23rd, 2020 and it could cost drivers who use mobile devices while driving hundreds of dollars. Under the new law, drivers 18 and older may touch mobile devices while driving only to activate hands-free mode. Any other device usage must be hands-free. Drivers under the age of 18 are not allowed to use any electronic device while driving.
Even to activate hands-free mode, a driver cannot hold or support a phone or other electronic device. The device must be mounted to the windshield, dashboard or center console.
Is Handheld Use Ever Allowed in Massachusetts?
Under the new law, handheld use is permitted only when the vehicle is at a stop and is not in a public lane of traffic. That means that handheld usage is not allowed at red lights or stop signs, or when stopped in traffic.
Penalties Under the Massachusetts Hands-Free Law
Until March 31st, 2020 law enforcement officers are issuing warnings to drivers who violate the new hands-free law. However, beginning March 31st, drivers who violate the law will be subject to a $100 fine for a first offense. The price gets steeper with repeat offenses. A second offense will result in a $250 fine and mandatory completion of a distracted driving education program. For third and subsequent offenses, the driver will be assessed a $500 fine, be required to attend the distracted driving program, and pay an insurance surcharge.
Is Hands-Free Driving Really Safer?
The short answer is yes. Research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) shows that drivers using hands-free devices were less likely to get in traffic accidents than those using handheld devices. Researchers determined the drivers who used handheld devices were at 2 to 3.5 times greater risk of crashing than what they described as “model drivers.”
But, that doesn’t mean that hands-free cell phone use is risk-free. The same researchers found that the crash risk also increased when drivers were engaged in some other activity that divided cognitive focus. That’s no surprise, as we know that any type of distraction can cause drivers to miss hazards, and may slow reaction time. However, the risk was not as great as it was when the driver used a handheld device.
The National Safety Council says that a driver’s field of vision narrows when he or she is talking on the phone, and that drivers talking on the phone can miss up to 50% of what goes on outside the vehicle, even if they are looking forward out the windshield.
In short, avoiding any kind of distraction while driving is best. Remaining fully focused on the road and the task at hand is the best way to avoid traffic accidents, and to ensure that you allow yourself enough time to react if something goes wrong in traffic around you. However, the use of handheld devices has been determined to be higher risk than hands-free usage. And hands-free is the law in Massachusetts.
Distracted Driving Remains Common
The new law is one way Massachusetts is attempting to reduce the danger of distracted driving. Though most drivers admit that they know using mobile devices while driving is dangerous, most also admit to having done so. More than 37% of drivers aged 18 to 34 who responded to a 2019 survey said they felt a high degree of pressure to respond to work-related communications while driving. But, distracted drivers kill thousands of people around the country each year.
If you have been injured in an accident with a distracted driver, or have lost a loved one to a driver who was texting or otherwise distracted at the time of the accident, you may be entitled to compensation. To learn more about your rights, speak with an experienced Massachusetts car accident attorney. Kevin P. Broderick has dedicated his career to helping injury victims secure the compensation they deserve. To schedule a free consultation just call 978-459-1792 or fill out the contact form on this page.