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Morse Insurance Addresses the Massachusetts Hands-Free Cell Phone Law

The much-anticipated bill requiring the hands-free use of mobile phones and other hand-held devices while operating a vehicle in Massachusetts has passed in the House and the Senate. Governor Charlie Baker signed the new legislation in November 2019, and on February 23rd, 2020, Massachusetts will officially join the 20 other states that prohibit hand-held phone use while driving. So, what does this mean for you?

With any luck, not much, as we hope that you are already doing everything you can to remain safe and present while behind the wheel of a car. However, merely opting not to text and drive and wearing a seatbelt is not going to cut it anymore. That’s right – beginning on February 23rd, answering your phone in the traditional sense, picking it up and swiping right or tapping the green circle, while in an active lane of traffic is enough to get you pulled over and cited for distracted driving.

The team at Morse, of course, is committed to our client’s safety. Below we have summarized the new Massachusetts law to ensure that our clients and fellow Massachusetts drivers remain in compliance this year.

  • The hands-free law takes effect on February 23rd, 2020. However, there is a grace period until March 31st. Any motor vehicle operators caught in violation of the law during this time frame will receive a warning for their first violation.
  • It is illegal to use electronic devices and cell phones while driving unless in hands-free mode. When operating a vehicle in Massachusetts, drivers are only permitted to make and take calls while using Bluetooth or similar hands-free technology. However, a “single tap or swipe” to enable these hands-free capabilities is allowed.
  • Drivers cannot read text messages or view other content on their phones, with the only exception being directional navigation. Still, the driver must mount their phone or electronic device to the windshield, dashboard, or center console of the car. This section of the law shouldn’t come as a surprise – texting and driving has been illegal in Massachusetts since 2010.
  • In the event of an emergency, a driver can use their phone to request medical attention or report an accident or crime. Additionally, the new law does not apply to first responders and public safety personnel who are on duty and driving emergency vehicles.
  • The fines are steep. Once the grace period ends, the first offense will cost drivers $100. The second infraction increases to $250, and the third and each subsequent offense after that will cost the motorist $500. In addition to the financial impact, the driver will need to complete a mandatory distracted driving prevention program.
  • Infractions will impact your car insurance rate. The first two violations will not affect your insurance rate. However, anything beyond that will be considered a surchargeable incident.

Distracted Driving Continues to Be A Public Safety Concern Nationally

With the ongoing use of technology in our day-to-day lives, the list of distractions while driving continues to grow. According to the 2019 Travelers Risk Index survey on Distracted Driving, 77% of participants admitted to making or taking calls while operating a vehicle, and 31% stated they were almost involved in an accident while driving distracted. Among the long list of distractions and dangerous behaviors drivers engage in today, the Travelers survey also revealed that 44% of participating drivers admitted that they text or email while driving, 23% use social media, 22% record videos or snap photos, and 15% shop online.

Bluetooth and other hands-free technologies may significantly reduce visual distractions and help drivers break bad habits. But what if your car is not currently equipped with Bluetooth or a similar hands-free system? If your vehicle is older than five years, these features likely are not standard. Fortunately, there are plenty of accessories available for purchase that can help make the transition to hands-free a bit easier and at a fraction of the cost of buying a new car.

  • Bluetooth Speaker – This small speaker easily clips to the visor of your car and connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth. Additionally, most smart speakers today are compatible with Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant, instantly turning your cellphone into a hands-free device.
  • Phone Mount – When properly installed to the dashboard or in your cup holder, this product allows you to operate your device hands-free and keep your eyes on the road.

Morse, Of Course, Is Committed to Keeping You and Your Family Safe

As your trusted insurance agent, our job stretches far beyond providing you with a comprehensive car insurance policy. It is our responsibility to provide you with information and insights related to your car and the rules of the road. Morse, of course, will continue to stay on top of driver safety and distracted driving topics and share anything that we feel may impact you and your family. For more information on the new hands-free law and other important personal insurance topics, be sure to follow our blog and Facebook page.

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