What Is Massachusetts’s Hands-Free Law?
It is a driver’s responsibility to pay attention to the road. A driver should dedicate his or her full attention to the driving task 100% of the time. Unfortunately, hundreds of drivers in Massachusetts are guilty of distracted driving – one of the deadliest driver errors. In 2018 alone, close to 3,000 people in the US lost their lives in traffic accidents because of distracted drivers. Massachusetts is one of many states that have passed hands-free cellphone laws to reduce the number of distracted drivers.
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Massachusetts’s Hands-Free Law in 2020
Although Massachusetts already had texting while driving ban in place, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a stricter cellphone bill into law in 2020, effective in February. The new law bans the use of all electronic devices that are not hands-free while driving. Drivers may only use hands-free technology to make calls behind the wheel, and only if they are 18 or older. Drivers under 18 may not use cellphones in any capacity in Massachusetts.
Hands-free cellphone use means using Bluetooth technology to operate a cellphone through voice or the vehicle’s speakers. It could also mean using a cellphone on speakerphone mode while in a hands-free holder. It means the driver cannot hold the cellphone in his or her hand to text, make calls or for other reasons. According to a separate law in Massachusetts, drivers also cannot wear headphones in both ears while driving. A driver may drive with an earbud in one ear for phone calls, however.
Massachusetts’s Hands-Free Law permits drivers to use a single tap or swipe, but only to activate or deactivate hands-free mode on a cellphone. Taking several steps with one’s hands is against the law. The only exception is in an emergency. Drivers may also use their phones while parked and not in travel lanes. Breaking the state’s new Hands-Free Law could lead to a $100 fine for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for any offenses after that. Drivers caught using handheld devices will also have to pass mandatory education programs.
Existing Distracted Driving Laws in Massachusetts
Before the passing of the new Hands-Free Law, Massachusetts already prohibited any driver, regardless of age and driving experience, from texting while driving. The Safe Driver Law banned texting and driving universally in the state. This law also made it illegal for drivers under the age of 18 to operate a cellphone while driving in any regard, even while using hands-free technology. Additionally, it required elderly drivers over 75 years old to take a vision test and renew their licenses in person.
The new Hands-Free Law made it easier for police officers in Massachusetts to enforce existing cellphone laws. Previously, a loophole in the Safe Driver Law made it almost impossible for law enforcement to make traffic stops for texting while driving. Now, using a handheld cellphone while driving is a primary offense, meaning police officers may enforce it without the driver committing any other offense.
What If a Distracted Driver Causes an Accident?
Breaking the state’s Hands-Free Law could lead to more than just a fine if the distracted driver causes a car accident. The at-fault driver could also face liability for victims’ damages. While Massachusetts is a no-fault state, an injured victim could file a claim against a distracted driver if he or she has serious injuries. A fault-based insurance claim could lead to better benefits than a first-party claim. The at-fault party could also face criminal charges if he or she was driving drunk, committed a hit-and-run, or broke another state law.
Distracted driving is deadly. Any driver who takes his or her eyes off the road, hands off the steering wheel, or attention away from the driving task is putting others at risk. Massachusetts’s updated Hands-Free Law aims to reduce the number of people using their cellphones while driving in the state. The Hands-Free mandate will ideally improve the safety of Massachusetts’s streets for everyone. Speak with a Boston car accident attorney for more information.