House Passes Distracted Driving Legislation

BOSTON – Representatives Richard M. Haggerty (D-Woburn) and Michelle Ciccolo (D-Lexington), together with their colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, overwhelmingly voted to pass legislation to ban drivers from using hand-held electronic devices in vehicles unless the devices 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.”

“Similar to laws for car seats and seatbelts before it – this legislation is a common sense step forward that will save lives and make us all safer,” said Rep. Haggerty. “The time has come to put down our phones and better utilize technology when making phone calls so we can keep our eyes on the road.”

“As a long time bicycle and pedestrian advocate, I have been a strong supporter of this bill and prior versions for years, and I am pleased to have voted for this measure as it passed the House so convincingly,” said Rep. Ciccolo. “Along with provisions requiring state officials to explore expanding racial and gender data collection whenever a traffic stop results in a search or frisk, this bill will greatly increase public safety while ensuring that no group is unfairly targeted as a result of these important new restrictions.”

The bill defines hands-free devices as those that engage in voice communication and receive 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 will also:

• Allow 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;
• Exempt 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 fines $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second offense and $500 for third and subsequent offenses;
• Build off of and bolster existing law by creating compliance measures requiring the inclusion of race on the uniform citation and extending this practice to all jurisdictions;
• Invest $300,000 toward data collection and analysis by an outside entity;
• Require jurisdictions – if data suggest those jurisdictions may be engaging in racial profiling – to collect demographic data on all traffic stops for a one-year period; and
• Create an awareness campaign informing and educating the public of the dangers of using technological devices while driving and their obligations under this bill.

The bill will now go to the Senate for further consideration.