By Chief Steven J. Wojnar
Dudley Police Department
February marks the start of hands-free cell phone use while driving in Massachusetts. The law was passed last year, and it takes effect in just a few weeks. Since this is an important safety related change, I was asked to provide some details for drivers.
Texting and driving had been prohibited for several years in Massachusetts. This was very difficult to enforce, however; especially with the prevalence of smart phones. In those instances, it is always difficult to determine the difference between a person sending a text or dialing a phone number. Since distracted driving is a major concern, particularly involving cell phones, this change to a hands-free system is an important public safety measure. Most states had hands-free laws in place for quite some time. Massachusetts is now up to speed with everyone else. As of February 23rd, drivers can be stopped for a using phone other than in hands free mode. From that date until the end of March, drivers are only subject to a warning for a violation. After that time, they can be issued a citation.
According to the new law, drivers can only use electronic devices and mobile phones in hands-free mode and are only permitted to touch devices to activate them for that purpose. They cannot hold or support any electronic device/phone and it should be properly mounted to the windshield, dashboard, or center console in a manner that does not impede with the operation of the vehicle. Emailing, using apps, watching videos, internet use, etc. is also prohibited. Activation of GPS navigation is allowed when the device is installed or properly mounted in the vehicle as mentioned previously. Handheld use can only occur if the vehicle is both stationary and not located in a public travel lane. It is not allowed at red lights or stop signs. Voice to text and other communication of electronic devices is legal, again, only when device is properly mounted in the vehicle. The use of a headphone for one ear is allowed. Drivers may use a phone in the event of an emergency to call 911 or for help; however, everyone is still encouraged to pull over to a safe location whenever possible.
The penalty for a first offense violation carries $100 fine. A second offense calls for a $250 fine, plus the mandatory completion of a distracted driving educational program. A third or subsequent offenses carries a $500 fine, plus an insurance surcharge along with the mandatory completion of the distracted driving educational program.
The hope is drivers will limit any unnecessary cell phone use. Everyone should take advantage of this time to equip their vehicles with the appropriate hands-free mounts to make certain any phone use is both safe and in compliance with the law. Please do your best to limit distractions and try to only use phones when necessary. If the call or message can wait, let it.
Thanks again for your questions and comments. Please send them to me at the Dudley Police Department 71 West Main St., Dudley, Ma. 01571 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this weekly column are those of Chief Wojnar only and unless clearly noted, do not reflect the ideas or opinions of any other organization or citizen.