MA Law Requiring Hands-Free Cell Phone Use While Driving Now in Effect

By Mike Derderian, Peter Moser, David Wilson   February 26, 2020

On February 23, 2020, a new Massachusetts law went into effect requiring Massachusetts drivers who wish to use a mobile electronic device while driving to do so in a hands-free mode.  The new law, “An Act Requiring the Hands-Free Use of Mobile Telephones While Driving,” was signed into law by Governor Baker on November 25, 2019, amending Massachusetts General Law Chapter 90, § 13B, which had already prohibited the use of cell phones to “manually compose, send or read an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle.”  Now, § 13B goes further to provide that “No Operator of a motor vehicle shall hold a mobile electronic device” or “shall use [such a device] unless the device is being used in a hands-free mode.” The new law also makes clear that while reading or viewing text, images, or video on a mobile electronic device is prohibited, a driver may view a map generated by a navigation system or application that is mounted or affixed to the windshield, dashboard, or console of the vehicle.

This newly enhanced ban on mobile electronic device use while driving does not apply to public safety workers or emergency first responders who use a mobile electronic device while engaged in the performance of their duties.  In addition, Massachusetts drivers may present evidence that their prohibited use of a cell phone was in response to an emergency, which will serve as an affirmative defense to any violation.  The new law, however, narrowly defines “emergency” to mean either that (1) the driver’s vehicle was disabled, (2) medical attention was required, (3) police, fire, or other emergency services were needed, or (4) the driver needed to report a disabled vehicle or accident on the road.  Drivers who violate the law risk a $100 fine for a first offense, a $250 fine for a second offense, and a $500 fine for a third and subsequent offenses.  Drivers who commit second and subsequent offenses shall be required to complete a program on distracted driving with the registrar of motor vehicles.

In light of this new prohibition, employers should review and, where necessary, revise their handbooks to prohibit employees from using mobile electronic devices while driving in connection to their work duties.

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