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The New Massachusetts Distracted Driving Law – What you need to know

Driving while using your cell phone will be illegal in MA – What you need to know

person-woman-smartphone-car-3056On November 25 2019, Governor Baker signed a hands-free driving bill into law which will make it illegal to use your cell phone while driving, with a few exceptions. The law will go into effect February 23, 2020.

Here is an excerpt from the law: “No operator of a motor vehicle shall hold a mobile electronic device or “use a mobile electronic device unless the device is being used in hands free mode.” So essentially, you can use your phone while in the car, but it has to be in hands-free mode and the only time you can legally touch it is to activate hands-free mode.

One thing to note is that there is already a separate law on the books that went into place in 2010 that banned Massachusetts drivers under 18 from using a cell phone in any way while driving, even in hands-free mode. This same 2010 law also made it illegal for drivers of any age to read or text while driving.

Emergency exceptions

There are several emergency scenarios in which it is still OK to use your phone while driving. They are:

  • Reporting that your vehicle is disabled.
  • Calling to report there is a disabled vehicle or accident in the road.
  • Calling emergency services for the safety of the driver, passenger, or the safety of the public.
  • Calling to report that medical attention is needed.

Penalties for breaking the law

Although the law goes into effect on February 23, 2020, there will be a short grace period until March 31, 2020 during which first time violators of the new law will receive warnings. After this grace period ends, violators will be:

1. Fined $100 for their first time offense
2. Fined $250 for the second offense
3. $500 fine for their third or subsequent offense plus an increase in insurance cost.

Third time and subsequent offenders will also need to complete a mandatory educational course on preventing distracted driving.

To top it off, third time offenders and subsequent offenders will be hit with an increase in their insurance premium as these occurrences will be considered “surchargeable incidents”

Setting up Hands Free Mode on your device

So the main takeaway here is that violating this law will get expensive and inconvenient fast. Now is a good time to figure out hands-free mode on your device in preparation for February 2020.

Here is a brief guide explaining how to active hands free mode for iPhone:

iPhone :

For other phone types do a Google search for “How to activate hands free mode on (your phone name here)”. Setup for most devices is easy and usually only takes about a minute or less.

How does the law affect my insurance?

We asked our carries if they expect to apply rating factors to first and second offenses, and replied, not right now.  We suspect if first and second offence drivers show increased losses, then companies will find a way to charge for this elevated risk.

This is an example of what insurance companies call, and state legislatures nor recognize as, behavioral risk.  Meaning, some of our behaviors, our habits, are putting the rest of the driving public at risk.  The purpose of the law is to change this behavior.  Here are a few tips for helping drivers to change behavior:

  • Mute or turn off your phone when driving.
  • If driving with someone else, ask the passenger to take a call or text.
  • Utilize an app, such as Road Rewards available to our Plymouth Rock customers, that monitor cell use, and reward drivers for better habits. 

Accidents caused by distracted driving are well known,  The University of West Virginia did a study of over 6 million miles and revealed that texting while driving increases the likelihood of an accident by 22 times. Changing habits is never easy, but there are big incentives for changing a habit of distracted driving.   

In Summary

Statistics have shown that distracted driving is dangerous and expensive. According to an April 2018 report by the U.S. Department of Transportation, 9 people per day die and over 1000 are injured in accidents involving distracted drivers.   One in four accidents is caused by distracted driving nationally.   Hopefully the new law will prevent some of those distracted driving deaths and injuries in Massachusetts and make for a better driving experience for everyone throughout the state. The bottom line: don’t do other stuff while driving – just drive!


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