Cell Phone Driving Laws

April 4, 2018
Written by C&S Insurance

Massachusetts man driving and texting at same timeDo you know the cell phone driving laws in Massachusetts and New England? Since 2010, the region has had laws in place to discourage distracted driving and prevent collisions. But there are still too many drivers on the road who either don’t know the laws or don’t know the consequences of breaking them.

In honor of Distracted Driving Awareness Month (April), we wanted to share this quick outline of MA cell phone driving laws. For full details—and penalty guidelines—read the Massachusetts RMV’s summary of the Safe Driving Law.

Can I use my cell phone while driving?

UPDATE: In January 2019, Massachusetts’ Governor Baker proposed a “Safety on the Roads” bill that would restrict the use of electronic devices while driving to “hands-free” mode only. Anyone operating a motor vehicle would not be allowed to touch or hold a mobile electronic device, “except to perform a single tap or swipe to activate, deactivate, or initiate hands-free mode.” The proposed bill would allow talking, texting and other tasks to be completed via voice commands. We will post any updates on the status of this bill.

For now, if you are 18 or older, you are allowed to talk on your phone while driving, so long as one hand remains on the wheel at all times and the device does not interfere with your driving. So there is some subjectivity involved here. We’ve all seen people trying to make sharp turns or back out of a parking space one-handed. If you were to have a collision in one of these scenarios, it’s probably safe to say the phone is impairing your ability—and you could potentially be handed a civil offense penalty for Improper Use of a Mobile Phone by Operator ($35 for the first assessment; $75 for the second in 12-month period).

If you are under 18, any use of a mobile phone while driving (even just for talking) is prohibited. The only exception is if you need to report an emergency, but even then you are encouraged to pull over. 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.

Can I text while driving?

No! Under no circumstances can you write, read, or send text messages while driving, no matter how old you are. Here’s another key point: this law 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—$200 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. 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. For full details, visit the Mass RMV’s summary of the Safe Driving Law.

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
  • Talking on phone (for drivers over 18) without a hands-free device
  • 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.f