House Passes Distracted Driving Legislation

Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester) and her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives have passed legislation to ban drivers from using hand-held electronic devices in vehicles unless they are in hands-free mode.

“Distracted driving is a factor in too many dangerous and fatal motor vehicle accidents, and the House is proud to take this step to move this policy forward for Massachusetts – making our roads safer and protecting our drivers, passengers and pedestrians,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I want to thank Chair Straus for his diligence and hard work, and Leader Wagner, Chair Michlewitz, members of the Black and Latino Caucus, and my colleagues in the House who were instrumental to this process.” 

“There have been too many preventable tragedies that involved drivers who were distracted by holding their cell phone while speaking on the phone, to send or read a text, or to use an app while driving,” said Ferrante. “I am pleased to support this legislation to make our roads safer by ensuring that drivers keep their eyes and focus on the road, not their cell phones.”

The bill defines hands-free devices as those that engage in voice communication with and receiving audio without touching, holding or otherwise manually manipulating the device. Law enforcement officials have the ability to issue warnings to drivers until Dec. 31, 2019 before the law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. The bill also:

  • Allows for drivers to use mapping or navigation devices if they are affixed to the windshield or integrated into the vehicle and only involve a tap or a swipe; 
  • Exempts use of electronics in the case of an emergency and for first responders if they are using the devices as part of their duties; 
  • Penalizes drivers with fines $100 for the first offence, $250 for the second offence and $500 for third and subsequent offences;
  • Builds off and bolsters existing law by creating compliance measures, requiring the inclusion of race on the uniform citation, and extending this practice to all jurisdictions;
  • Invests $300,000 towards data collection and analysis by an outside entity;
  • Requires jurisdictions – if data suggests those jurisdictions may be engaging in racial profiling – to collect data on all traffic stops for a one-year period; and
  • Creates a public awareness campaign informing and educating the dangers of using technological devices while driving and the obligations of drivers under this bill.

The bill will now go to the Senate.

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