Cell Phone Driving Laws in Massachusetts

By: Mary Steeb, CISR, CPIW

Mary loves to explain insurance in terms that her customers can understand so that they can make informed decisions about their coverage.

51% of new england drivers admit to cell phone use when alone in carDo you know the cell phone driving laws in Massachusetts? A year after the passage of our state’s distracted driving law, most drivers (51%) still admit to texting or emailing while alone in their vehicles (according to a 2021 AAA survey). One in four drivers (26%) still thinks it’s okay to use a phone in the car, so long as the vehicle is at a complete stop.

Don’t perpetuate these mistakes. Here’s the truth:

Massachusetts’ hands-free law makes it illegal for drivers (and bicycle operators) to hold any electronic device while driving, even if the vehicle is stationary (e.g. stopped at a red light or stuck in traffic).

All devices must be properly mounted and can only be used in “hands-free” mode. Penalties start at $100.  After two offenses, distracted driving will cost you $500, plus a mandatory course on distracted driving and… an insurance surcharge.

Can I use my cell phone while driving in Massachusetts?

Not if you need to hold it. Beginning February 2020, MA drivers can only use mobile devices in “hands-free mode.”

Drivers under 18 cannot use mobile devices at all, not even in hands-free mode. 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 did the MA cell phone law change?

 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. 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.

What are the penalties for breaking MA 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, plus a mandatory distracted driving course.  Third offenses and beyond will cost $500 each, plus a mandatory distracted driving course. 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 did the new MA cell phone driving law take effect?

Massachusetts’ new cell phone driving law took effect on February 23, 2020.

Will the new cell phone driving law affect my insurance rate?

It could. See the question above on multiple offenses and penalties.

Where can I get more information on the MA cell phone driving law?

You can download the state’s Hands Free While Driving pamphlet.

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 is “inattention blindness” or driving while “intexticated”?

Research shows that even after you put your mobile device down, your mind is still not fully focused on the task of driving for up to 27 seconds. This phenomenon is known as inattention blindness. And it explains the importance of not using your phone at all while driving–not even for a quick peek in between traffic lights.

What can I do to protect and educate my family or employees?

Start by sharing this post on MA cell phone driving laws. Next, sit down and have a conversation with all the drivers in your household/company. There are many forms of distracted driving that are not necessarily against the law, but are still very dangerous. You might want to make a group 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.