Cell Phone Driving Laws in Massachusetts

November 26, 2019

Massachusetts man driving and texting at same timeDo you know the cell phone driving laws in Massachusetts? If you haven’t been following the news, you may need a refresh. Because the rules just changed…

Can I use my cell phone while driving in Massachusetts?

Beginning February 23, 2020, MA drivers can only use mobile devices in “hands-free mode.” See the update in red (below) for more info.

Previously, drivers 18 and older were allowed to talk on phones while driving, so long as one hand remained on the wheel at all times, and providing the device did not interfere with driving. For those under 18, any use of a mobile phone while driving (even just for talking) has long been prohibited. Use of Mobile Phone/Electronic Device by Junior Operator comes with a $100 first-offense penalty AND a 60-day license suspense and attitudinal course requirement.

How and when is the MA cell phone law changing?

 In November 2019, Governor Charlie Baker signed a hands-free driving bill into law. The bill is titled “An Act Requiring The Hands-Free Use Of Mobile Telephones While Driving.”  Per the new law, anyone operating a motor vehicle cannot touch or hold a mobile electronic device, “except to perform a single tap or swipe to activate, deactivate, or initiate hands-free mode.” The law allows talking, texting and other tasks to be completed via voice command only. Certain emergency exceptions apply.

Can I text while driving in MA?

No! Under no circumstances can you write, read, or send text messages while driving. Here’s another key point: this restriction applies even when you are stopped in traffic. So don’t try sneaking in a few texts at the red light or during your gridlock commute: it’s a civil offense. The first time you’re caught will cost you $100—$250 and $500 fines come after that.

Can I check my phone for directions or other online information while driving?

If you have a hands-free navigational device that is permanently or temporarily affixed to your car, you are not running afoul of cell phone driving laws. But you should not be checking directions from a phone that is loose on your lap or in the passenger seat. Similarly, even if you’re checking websites or emails to help you get where you’re going, you cannot access these screens while driving; that would be considered an offense.

Can I text while stopped in traffic?

No! See above answer on texting while driving in MA. Another point of emphasis: you cannot read text messages that have already been sent to you while driving.

What are the penalties for breaking cell phone driving laws?

Penalties vary, depending on the type of offense and whether you’ve already been flagged for it or not.

A first-time violation will result in a $100 fine. Your second offense will cost you $250.  Third offenses and beyond will cost $500 each. AND, once you’re caught a third time. you’ll be in the “surchargeable incident” category, which means cell phone use while driving could affect your MA car insurance rates. (A surchargeable incident is an at-fault car accident or traffic law offense that may result in an increase in your insurance premium.) Here’s the official lingo:

(e) A first or second offense under this section or section 8M shall not be a surchargeable 66 incident under section 113B of chapter 175 or under a motor vehicle liability policy as defined in 67 section 34A that is issued pursuant to said chapter 175; provided, however, that a third or 68 subsequent offense under this section or section 8M shall be a surchargeable incident under said 69 section 113B of said chapter 175 or under a motor vehicle liability policy as defined in said 70 section 34A that is issued pursuant to said chapter 175.

For full details, visit the Mass RMV’s summary of the Safe Driving Law.

When will the new MA cell phone driving law take effect?

Massachusetts’ new cell phone driving law will take effect on February 23, 2020. However, there will be a short grace period for first-time violators. If you’re cited between February 23, 2020 and March 31, 2020, you will only receive a warning.

The exact language of the law reads, “notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, an operator of a motor vehicle shall be issued a warning for a first violation…for conduct other than the typing or reading of an electronic message occurring after the effective date of this act until March 31, 2020, inclusive.”

Do other states have cell phone driving laws?

Yes! Massachusetts was surprisingly late to get on board with safer mandates. Hand-held use of cellphones was already prohibited in the neighboring states of Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

How dangerous is distracted driving/driving while using a cell phone?

Every year, more than 3,000 Americans are killed in crashes that involve a distracted driver; roughly 400,000 are injured—which is more than the entire population of Cleveland, Ohio. Statistics show that teen drivers are the prime offenders. Teaching teens to drive (beyond basic driver’s ed) has never been so important.

What can I do to protect and educate my family?

Start by sharing this post on local cell phone driving laws. Next, sit down and have a conversation with all the drivers in your household. There are many forms of distracted driving that are not necessarily against the law, but are still very dangerous. You might want to take a family pledge to avoid them. Consider banning distractions like:

  • Eating while driving
  • Smoking while driving (which is doubly bad for you!)
  • Applying makeup
  • Looking for things in purse or backpack
  • Driving without adequate sleep (see our post on drowsy driving prevention)

And remember, if you ever have any questions about cell phone driving laws—including surcharges that could affect your MA car insurance rate—don’t hesitate to call us at 508.339.2951.