Massachusetts General Court Passes Distracted Driving Legislation

(BOSTON) – Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), Representative Richard M. Haggerty (D-Woburn), and Representative Michelle Ciccolo (D-Lexington), along with their colleagues in the House and Senate, voted yesterday to enact legislation to ban motorists from using hand-held electronic devices in vehicles unless they are in hands-free mode.

“The safety of our residents is paramount,” said Senator Friedman. “This long overdue bill will protect our drivers and pedestrians as well as reduce the rate of tragic accidents caused by distracted driving on our roads. I’m proud the Legislature passed this commonsense bill, and am grateful that our busy roads and highways in the 4th Middlesex will become safer for everyone as a result.”

Hands-free mode is defined as voice communication with a mobile electronic device without touching, holding, or otherwise manually manipulating it.  Law enforcement officials will initially issue warnings to drivers for first offenses during a three month grace period starting when the new law goes into effect on March 31, 2020. 

“This distracted driving legislation will make our roadways safer for everyone,” said Representative Haggerty.  “Ensuring drivers put down their phones and concentrate on the road is a common sense step that will better protect both motorists, and the general public, from preventative accidents.”

In response to concerns about racial disparities in interactions with law enforcement, the bill includes a civil rights dimension.  The legislation improves transparency in public safety by granting expanded access to traffic stop data. It has been 15 years since the last public report on such data, and this bill will require it to be published and analyzed annually.  Expanding access to this information—including age, race, and gender, as well as the location of a stop when a police officer issues a uniform citation—will help hold law enforcement agencies accountable.  If the data suggests a jurisdiction may be engaging in racial profiling, that department would be required to collect data on all traffic stops for one year and provide implicit bias training.

“As a strong bicycle and pedestrian advocate, I have long been a strong supporter of banning the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving,” said Representative Ciccolo.“Operating a vehicle is a full time activity, and drivers who take their eyes off the road endanger not only themselves, but everyone around them. To that end, this bill will save lives while taking critical steps to ensure the law is not used as a way to unduly target drivers because of their race.”

The legislation will also:

  • Allow for drivers to use mapping or navigation devices if they are affixed to the windshield, dashboard, or central console, or integrated into the vehicle and only involve a single tap or swipe;
  • Exempt the use of electronics in the case of an emergency and for first responders if they are using the devices as part of their duties;
  • Penalize drivers with a $100 fine for the first offense, a $250 fine and safety course for the second offense, and a $500 fine and surcharge for third and subsequent offenses;
  • Require the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPPS) to publish data online annually;
  • Mandate EOPSS to contract with a research institution in order to conduct an annual analysis of the data collected;
  • Direct the EOPSS Secretary to hold three public hearings across the Commonwealth annually to present the findings of the annual report and analysis, and field public testimony; and
  • Create a public awareness campaign educating drivers on the dangers of using handheld devices while operating a motor vehicle.

The bill now moves to the Governor’s desk for his signature.