Cell Phone Driving Laws

April 4, 2018

Massachusetts man driving and texting at same timeDo you know the cell phone driving laws in Massachusetts and New England? If you haven’t been following the news, you may need a refresh… Because things are about to change (hopefully).

Can I use my cell phone while driving in Massachusetts?

For now, yes. But it looks like the law will soon change… See the update in red (below) for more info.

Currently, 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 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.

How and when is the MA cell phone law changing?

 As of June 2019, both the Massachusetts House and Senate had passed a bill (H 3793) that restricts 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 bill allows talking, texting and other tasks to be completed via voice command only.

Now that the bill has cleared the House and Senate, state lawmakers have to reconcile the differences between their two versions and vote on any changes before turning it over to Governor Charlie Baker, according to Mass Live.

Can I text while driving in MA?

No! Not even under the current law. 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. 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?

Assuming H.3793 becomes law, the hands-free requirement would take effect 90 days after passing. Police officers would begin issuing warnings, instead of fines, until 2020.

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 is 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
  • 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.