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In first week of hands-free law, State Police issued 578 warnings to drivers

A driver sat on their phone behind the wheel of a car.
A driver sat on their phone behind the wheel of a car.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

State Police have issued more than 500 warnings to drivers since the new hands-free law took effect in Massachusetts on Feb. 23, the agency said Tuesday.

Troopers confirmed the tally via Twitter.

“During the first week of the state’s new Hands Free law, MSP Troopers issued 578 warnings to drivers violating the law,” State Police tweeted. “Remember, drivers cannot handle cell phones, and can only use them in hands-free mode. After April 1, violators face monetary fines.”

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.

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The law also prohibits drivers from looking at images or videos, unless it’s to help with navigation. State law has forbidden texting while driving since 2010, but other actions, such as entering a phone number, were not previously covered by law.

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.

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, plus insurance surcharge, according to State Police.

Anyone with more than one infraction will also have to complete a program focused on preventing distracted driving.

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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 a recent 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.”

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

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.

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

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Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JaclynReiss