How Could Massachusetts’ New Hands-Free Cell Phone Law Impact You?

According to the Insurance Information Institute, distracted driving accidents have accounted for over 3,000 fatalities every year for the past decade. This is an alarming statistic that the state of Massachusetts has decided to address with a new law, called “An Act Requiring The Hands-Free Use of Mobile Telephones While Driving,” which bans the use of hand-held mobile devices while operating a motor vehicle.

Of course, we hope that you are already abiding by the new regulations, which were officially passed in November 2019. However, we also understand that some drivers may have yet to change their cell phone habits, while others may not even know that this new law is in place. If you are in the latter group, you should be relieved to know that you have not yet been breaking the law – it does not officially take effect until February 23rd.

However, there is no time like the present to learn what you, and other drivers in your household, need to do to comply with this hands-free cell phone law. Since we know that it’s not always easy to sift through the legal jargon of a state law, the team at HIG has done some of the legwork for you. Below, we have tried to provide you with the most straightforward information we can about the commonwealth’s new hands-free cell phone requirements and four ways these rules may impact you.

Impact #1: You will not be able to talk on your mobile device unless it is in hands-free mode.

Previous legislature in Massachusetts prohibited texting or reading messages on a mobile device while operating a vehicle. Now, drivers will no longer be able to use their devices for any reason, unless they do so in hands-free mode. Here are the three key directives stated in the new hands-free cell phone law:

  1. No driver may hold a mobile device
  2. No driver can use a mobile device unless it is used in hands-free mode, such as Bluetooth
  3. No driver can look at texts, images, or videos displayed on a mobile device

These regulations apply to drivers while operating a vehicle in any active lane of traffic, whether your car is moving or not. This means that even if your vehicle is stopped, say at a red light or a stop sign, you still may only use your mobile device in hands-free mode.

For those drivers who rely on Waze or some other navigation app to show you the way, the law does allow for you to use these GPS-style programs on your phone. The caveat is that your mobile device must be attached to your vehicle in a way that does not impede upon the operation of the car and leaves both of your hands on the wheel. Purchasing a cell phone mount for your car is an inexpensive way to ensure that you can view navigation prompts while also complying with the new law.

If you have a vehicle that was manufactured in 2015 or after, your car is likely equipped with Bluetooth technology. In that case, all you probably need to do to comply with the new hands-free cell phone law is make sure your car’s built-in tech is set up and then commit to using it.

The state law does recognize that in order to activate or deactivate hands-free mode on your mobile device, you may have to single tap or swipe your phone. But, after that, hands off!

Impact #2: If you are caught in violation of this law, you will be fined.

The consequences of not complying with this new hands-free cell phone law could be a significant dent in your bank account. A first offense earns you a $100 fine, a second offense gets you a fine of $250, and for third offenses and beyond, your fine will be $500 each time you are caught.

While this new law goes into effect in February, the state is providing some leeway to drivers and giving you time to adapt your cell phone usage behaviors. Until March 31st, if you’re pulled over for violating the new law, you will likely be issued just a warning, rather than a fine. However, as your local insurance professional, we can’t help but point out that the sooner you can adopt these new requirements, the more likely you will be to avoid the potentially negative outcomes of distracted driving.

Impact #3: There are only a few situations when this new hands-free cell phone law may not apply.

There are generally at least a few exceptions to every rule, and this new hands-free cell phone law is no different.

Public safety personnel and emergency first responders are exempt from this law when they are using a mobile electronic device while operating an emergency services vehicle and performing their job responsibilities.

Similarly, if you need to use your mobile device in an emergency, or to assist emergency personnel, you should be exempted from the hands-free rule. Some examples of times in which this might be relevant are:

  • You witness a car accident while driving and need to notify 911
  • You see someone driving erratically and want to report it to police
  • You are unable to pull your vehicle over, but need emergency assistance

Even in emergency situations, though, we still strongly encourage you to pull off the road before using your hand-held mobile device, if at all possible.

Impact #4: Not complying with the hands-free cell phone law may affect your car insurance rates.

Under this new law, your first two offenses are not considered surchargeable events in Massachusetts, and so should not impact your car insurance rates. However, third or subsequent offenses are likely to be viewed by your auto insurance provider like any other traffic violation, which means they may penalize you at annual renewal time with a higher insurance premium.

While disobeying the law has costly consequences, following the rules is often rewarded by insurance carriers. Many providers are now crediting their customers for safe and distraction-free driving. You may be able to earn rewards from your insurance carrier if you refrain from dangerous behaviors, such as speeding or stopping short, and, of course, by not using your mobile device while on the road.

Several of the carriers we work with offer their clients access to a mobile app that you can log on to every time you get behind the wheel. Other insurance providers may give you a tracking device that can be placed in your vehicle to monitor your driving behavior.

Have more questions about the new Massachusetts hands-free cell phone law?

The ultimate goal of the hands-free cell phone act is to make the roads safer for not just drivers and passengers, but all Massachusetts residents, including bicyclists and pedestrians who are often the victims of distracted driving accidents. For over a century, the professionals at HIG have been dedicated to helping keep all our neighbors safe, and so we are very pleased to see this policy, which has been in the works for decades, finally signed into law.

Please contact us if you would like to talk further about this new hands-free cell phone law. We are here to assist you in better protecting yourself behind the wheel, whether by providing safe driving tips, helping you fully understand the rules of the road, or making sure you have the best car insurance options for all your personal vehicles. We look forward to putting our experience to work for you.