Governor Charlie Baker on Monday signed a bill into law that would ban drivers from using cellphones and other hand-held devices. The measure, which had languished in the state Legislature for years, was sent to the governor’s desk last week after it finally passed in the House and the Senate.
Here’s a look at how the new law affects you.
When will it take effect?
The start date is Feb. 23, which is 90 days after being signed into law.
However, there will be a grace period through March 31, meaning drivers will get a warning for their first violation until April 1, according to the law.
What does it say drivers can and can’t do?
In essence, car drivers aren’t allowed to use electronic devices such as phones while driving unless using a hands-free mode. For example, if you’re calling someone from the driver’s seat, make sure you can do it without holding the phone. Hands-free devices using technologies such as Bluetooth are permitted. The law also allows for a “single tap or swipe” to activate or deactivate the hands-free mode.
Drivers also cannot read text messages or look at pictures or videos, unless they are viewing something that helps with navigation and the device is mounted in an appropriate location, such as the car’s windshield, dashboard, or center console.
Using a phone is allowed in response to emergencies including a need for medical attention, a request for emergency intervention from the police or fire department, and to report an accident or a disabled vehicle.
The law does not apply to first responders who are on duty and driving emergency service vehicles.
Drivers can use their phones if they are stationary and not in active lanes of travel, Baker’s office said.
Can drivers be pulled over just for being on their phone?
The law would make this a primary offense, according to the governor’s office, which means police officers can pull a driver over just for being on his or her phone.
If I get pulled over, what will happen?
Once the grace period ends April 1, the first offense will result in a $100 fine. However, repeat offenders can expect to pony up $250 for the second violation and $500 for the third and each subsequent offense.
Although the first two violations will not affect drivers’ insurance rates, a third infraction or anything beyond that will count as surchargeable incidents.
Anyone with more than one infraction will have to complete a program focused on distracted driving prevention.
What’s new in this law that wasn’t covered before?
State law has forbidden texting while driving since 2010, but other actions such as dialing a phone number were not covered, according to the State House News Service. (Take heed: Typing or receiving messages behind the wheel will still carry full punishments during the grace period.)
Does the new law apply to bicyclists?
There was a bit of confusion initially about this, as a statement from Baker’s office Monday said, “Under the new law, titled An Act requiring the hands-free use of mobile telephones while driving, operators of motor vehicles and bicycles cannot use an electronic device unless the device is being used in hands-free mode.”
However, two of the six legislators who were responsible for hammering out the final version of the bill told the Globe that the law does not actually apply to bicyclists.
“The prohibition on holding phones does not apply to bicycles,” wrote state Senator William Brownsbeger in an e-mail to the Globe. “It explicitly applies to operators of motor vehicles.”
Brownsberger said that the only reference to bicycles in the bill “is about where you could stop a motor vehicle to make a call; you cannot stop in a bicycle lane.”
Brownsberger, as well as State Representative Timothy Whelan, also noted that even motorized bicycles are not necessarily considered “motor vehicles” under state law.
“It states in this part of the bill that the operator of a ‘motor vehicle’ shall not hold a mobile electronic device,” Whelan wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. “By definition in Chapter 90 Section 1, a motor vehicle does not describe or apply to a bicycle (human/pedal powered). That was always my understanding.”
MassDOT representatives acknowledged to the Globe Wednesday afternoon that the information the department provided earlier to the governor’s office, which was released to the public, was incorrect.
Read the law:
Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.