driving with mobile phone

Hanging up the phone for Massachusetts drivers may be harder to do than initially expected. Exactly one year ago, the Massachusetts Hands Free Law was passed by the legislature and drivers across the Commonwealth have needed to adjust their behaviors in the car. How have we done? Let’s take a look at how we have altered our driving behaviors… or have we? 

What is the Hands Free Law? 

According to the February 23, 2020 law, dubbed the “Hands Free” Law, Massachusetts prohibits operators of motor vehicles from using any electronic device, including mobile telephones, unless the device is used in hands-free mode.

Specifically, motorists are not permitted to hold or support any electronic device/phone. They are not allowed to touch the phone except to activate the hands-free mode and can only enable it when the device is installed or properly mounted to the windshield, dashboard, or center console in a manner that does not impede the operation of the motor vehicle.

The law also includes stipulations about other activities commonly done on a phone. For instance, motorists are not allowed to touch devices for texting, emailing, apps, video, or internet use. That means no checking social media sites or your work email while you are commuting into the office to “get a jump on things.” 

For those who are concerned about using directional guidance while driving, rest assured that the activation of GPS navigation is permitted when the device is installed or properly mounted.

Some drivers may be tempted to test the limit or loopholes of laws, but be aware that handheld use is allowed only if the vehicle is both stationary and not located in a public travel lane or a bicycle lane. This means no sneaking a peak at a stop light or while sitting in stop-and-go traffic.  

phone in window of car

How Are Massachusetts Drivers Handling These Changes? 

In many areas, Massachusetts is a leader of the pack with progressive changes to laws that protect its citizens. Unfortunately, when it comes to the idea of distracted driving and hands free requirements, Massachusetts was well behind the front runners. The Bay State was the 21st state to require hands free legislation, one of the last among neighboring states. 

That being said, many motorists were not shocked that the Commonwealth adopted the guidelines as they have been in use in states surrounding us for years. Sadly, this has not changed some motorists’ behavior. Mere months after the law’s unveiling, the Boston Globe reported that highway fatalities have increased even despite the reduction in traffic due to the stay at home orders during the initial coronavirus outbreak. 

The numbers for fatalities and accidents have not been completely reported yet, and it may be too early to jump to any conclusions, but it seems like many motorists are still practicing unsafe driving behaviors such as: making calls with phones in hand, checking emails at stop lights, and even reading phone messages while in traffic.  For more information about this law and how Bay Staters are doing check out the Mass.gov site.