Mass. Legislature Passes Distracted Driving Bill FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Nov. 21, 2019 – (BOSTON) – State Senator Mike Barrett, along with his colleagues in the House and Senate, voted to enact legislation to ban motorists from using hand-held electronic devices in vehicles unless drivers use the device in hands-free mode.

Hands-free mode is defined as voice communication with a mobile electronic device without touching, holding, or otherwise manually manipulating a device.  Law enforcement officials will issue warnings to drivers for first offenses during a three month grace period, which will last until March 31, 2020.

“Many many of us have occasionally held a mobile device while driving,” said Senator Barrett.  “Now comes a law that makes doing so illegal, and with heavy penalties attached. This is one statue that will necessitate a significant amount of behavior change.”

“The safety of our residents is paramount,” said Senator Friedman. “This long overdue bill will protect our drivers and pedestrians as well as reduce the rate of tragic accidents caused by distracted driving on our roads. I’m proud the Legislature passed this commonsense bill, and am grateful that our busy roads and highways in the 4th Middlesex will become safer for everyone as a result.”

“As a bicycle and pedestrian advocate, I have long been a strong supporter of banning the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving,” said Representative Ciccolo. “Operating a vehicle is a full time activity, and drivers who take their eyes off the road endanger not only themselves, but everyone around them. To that end, this bill will save lives while taking critical steps to ensure the law is not used as a way to unduly target drivers because of their race.”

There is a civil rights dimension. The legislation also improves transparency in public safety by granting expanded access to traffic stop data.  It has been 15 years since the last public report on traffic stop data; under this bill the state will be required to publish and analyze the data annually.  Expanding access to this information improves transparency and improves public safety outcomes.

The bill will also:

  • Allow for drivers to use mapping or navigation devices if they are affixed to the windshield, dashboard or central console or integrated into the vehicle and only involve a tap or a swipe;
  • Exempt use of electronics in the case of an emergency and for first responders if they are using the devices as part of their duties;
  • Penalize drivers with $100 fine for the first offence, $250 fine and safety course for the second offence and $500 fine and surcharge for third and subsequent offences;
  • Expand data collection of identifying characteristics including age, race and gender and location when police issue a uniform citation;
  • Hold law enforcement agencies accountable, if data suggests those jurisdictions may be engaging in racial profiling, by requiring them to collect data on all traffic stops for a one-year period and provide implicit bias training;
  • Require the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPPS) to publish data online annually
  • Mandate EOPSS to contract with a research institution to conduct an annual analysis of the data collected.
  • Direct the EOPSS Secretary to hold three public hearings across the Commonwealth annually to present the findings of the annual report and analysis and field public testimony; and
  • Create a public awareness campaign informing and educating drivers on the dangers of using technological devices while driving

The bill now goes to the governor.

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