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The Mass. hands-free driving law went into effect Sunday. Here’s what you can and cannot do


It’s time to break some old habits: The new hands-free law went into effect Sunday.

“I think all of us have to unlearn behaviors that we have been learning since smartphones have become part of our lives," Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack had said at a news conference.

Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker said, "consistently rates among the 10 worst states in the country for distracted driving, and I think in many ways this law is overdue, but I also believe it will, over time, save lives.”

Here’s a look at what you can and cannot do under the law:



You CAN’T enter a number or talk on a phone without hands-free mode

The crux of the law is that drivers cannot make phone calls unless they are using a hands-free technology like Bluetooth.

“No operator of a motor vehicle shall hold a mobile electronic device,” the statute states.

You CAN’T look at photos or videos

The law also prohibits drivers from looking at images or videos — unless it’s to help with navigation; more on that below.

You STILL CAN’T text while driving

State law has forbidden texting while driving since 2010, but other actions, such as entering a phone number, were not previously covered. (Take heed: Typing or receiving messages behind the wheel will still carry full punishments during a grace period — more on that below, as well.)

You CAN’T use your phone at a stoplight

A driver can use a phone only if the vehicle is stationary and not in an active travel lane, according to a statement from Governor Baker’s office.

“If you’re driving, or even stopped at a traffic light, you cannot hold the phone to make or receive calls, read or write texts, use e-mail or the Internet, or conduct any other form of electronic communication,” State Police Colonel Chris Mason says in a video posted online.


If you’re under 18, you CAN’T use your phone in any capacity

Drivers under 18 are not allowed to use phones in any way, including hands-free mode, while operating a vehicle. A first offense results in a $100 fine and a 60-day loss of license; a second offense means a $250 fine and a 180-day loss of license. A third or subsequent violation will result in a $500 fine, according to State Police.


You CAN use the speakerphone feature or a Bluetooth headset

For those without Bluetooth integrated into their car’s technology, using the phone’s speakerphone feature would comply with the law, as long as the device is properly mounted, according to Jeff Larason, director of the Highway Safety Division in the state Office of Grants and Research.

If the speakerphone doesn’t quite cut it for you, drivers can also use a Bluetooth headset, as long as it goes in only one ear.

If you have an earbud set that allows you to speak on the phone (such as the one that often comes with a new iPhone), you can use it in one ear — as long as the other ear is left free, Larason said.

“The one earbud element is not directly part of this law,” Larason said in an e-mail. “It has long been illegal to drive with earphones in both ears. The reason is that drivers need to be fully aware of their surroundings, as well as to be able to hear emergency responders.”


You CAN use your phone for navigation

A driver can use a phone as long as he or she is viewing something that helps with navigation and the device is mounted in an appropriate location, such as on the windshield, dashboard, or center console.

You CAN use a phone in an emergency

Using a phone is allowed in response to emergencies, including a need for medical attention, to summon police or firefighters, and to report an accident or a disabled vehicle.

You CAN carry out a single tap or swipe to activate hands-free mode

The law acknowledges that drivers “may require a single tap or swipe to activate, deactivate or initiate the hands-free mode feature.”

You CAN be pulled over for using your phone

The law makes this a primary offense, according to the governor’s office, which means police can stop a driver simply for being on his or her phone.

You CAN be stopped by both state and local police

According to the State Police video, “local and State Police officers will be out on the roadways to enforce the provisions of this new law, and to educate motorists.”

You CAN be fined a lot of money for a first offense — but not until April 1

Technically, the law went into effect Sunday, but those who are caught won’t be punished at first. That’s because there will be a grace period through the end of March, meaning a driver will get a warning for the first violation until April 1, according to the law.


But starting April 1, it gets costly: The first offense will result in a $100 fine, and repeat offenders can expect to pony up $250 for the second violation and $500 for the third and each subsequent offense. (Anyone with more than one infraction will also have to complete a program focused on preventing distracted driving.)

Correspondent Meghan Sorensen contributed to this report.

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JaclynReiss