By Chris Maza
BOSTON – On Nov. 25, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that bans drivers from using hand-held electronic devices in vehicles unless they are in hands-free mode.
The bill, which was supported by state Rep. Brian Ashe in the House and state Sen. Eric Lesser in the Senate, defines hands-free mode as one that engages in voice communication with and receiving audio without touching, holding or otherwise manually manipulating a mobile electronic device.
“This legislation is a long time coming after years of hard work, compromise and negotiations. Although this may be a difficult transition for some, the end result means that our streets, highways and neighborhoods will be safer for our residents, neighbors and our families. In a relatively short period of time, cellphones have taken over our everyday lives. While we certainly want technology to progress and move forward, safety and common sense should always come first. I’m extremely proud to pass legislation that will save lives,” Ashe said.
“Too many lives have been lost due to distracted driving,” Lesser added. “The passage of this bill protects drivers and pedestrians alike by making our roads safer and encouraging people to put their devices down and focus on the road.”
Drivers will be fined $100 for a first offense. A second offense called for a $250 fine and a safety course while third and subsequent offenses carry a fine of $500 and an insurance surcharge.
Law enforcement officials will issue warnings to drivers for first offenses of the new law until March 31, 2020.
The law allows drivers to use mapping and navigation devices if they are affixed to the windshield, dashboard or center console. Devices integrated into vehicles that require only a tap or swipe to operate are also exempted. Motorists may also use their devices in case of emergency and first responders may use devices as part of their duties.
The law also expands data collection of identifying characteristics including age, race, gender and location when police issue a citation. By law, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security is required to publish data collected online annually, contract with a research institution to analyze the figures and host three public hearings per year to present the findings and hear public testimony.
The legislation carried language intended to hold law enforcement accountable. If data that suggests racial profiling, agencies in question would be required to collect data on all traffic stops for one year and provide implicit bias training.
Additionally, the state will create a public awareness campaign educating drivers on the use of handheld devices while driving.