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Massachusetts Distracted Driving Law Takes Effect In 2020

Massachusetts has become the 16th state with a law that bans drivers from holding phones.

The new law which takes effect on February 23rd, 2020, prohibits the use of electronic devices, including cellphones and tablets, by the operators of motor vehicles and bicycles unless the technology is being used hands-free.

" Operators driving a car should not be holding a phone to text, check social media, or email," said Gov. Charlie Baker.

  The Republican, who once opposed such a ban but changed his position on the issue a few years ago, signed the bill at a State House ceremony Monday attended by road safety advocates and people who lost loved-ones in crashes blamed on distracted drivers.

" When a driver on an electronic device hits something or someone, that is not an accident, it's a crash that was avoidable," said Baker.

Massachusetts banned texting while driving in 2010, but police said it was difficult to enforce because they could not tell from a distance if a motorist was placing a call or texting.  Now, the law forbids drivers from holding a phone for any reason.

 Drivers cannot look at texts, email, or, videos.   Maps and navigation apps can be used, but the device has to be mounted on a dashboard or console.

Emily Stein of the Safe Roads Alliance began lobbying for the tougher law after her father Howard Stein was killed by a distracted driver in 2011.

She said the new law " is not a panacea for road safety, but it will save lives."

Legislation outlawing drivers from holding their cellphones while behind the wheel had been bottled up on Beacon Hill for years over concerns it could be used for racial profiling.

The new law will require police to keep a record of the race, gender, and age of the individual they ticket or issue a warning to.   The data will be available in annual reports and if analysis finds evidence of racial profiling by a police department its officers would be required to undergo bias training.

Democratic State Rep. Joe Wagner of Chicopee, who was on the conference committee that wrote the hands-free bill, said police departments have been collecting data on traffic stops for years but there was no requirement that it be analyzed.

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the state’s drivers’ education manual will be updated to include the requirements of the new law and a class will be developed for repeat offenders.

" There is a culture of cell phone use that needs to change," said Pollack.

Until April 1st, 2020, police will issue warnings. A ticket for a first offense comes with a $100 fine. A second offense will cost $250.  Third and subsequent violations are a $500 fine and could result in an insurance surcharge.

Drivers ticketed a second time must attend a class on distracted driving.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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