Legislature Passes Distracted Driving Bill

(BOSTON) – On Wednesday, Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) joined her colleagues in the Legislature to pass legislation banning drivers from using hand-held electronic devices in vehicles unless they are in hands-free mode.

“We’re proud to have worked with our colleagues in the Senate to make Massachusetts roads safer and save lives by moving this policy forward,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I want to thank Chair Straus for his leadership on this issue and Leader Wagner, Chair Michlewitz and my colleagues in the House who worked so diligently to advance this legislation.”

This new distracted driving law is going to make our roads safer and save lives in Massachusetts,” said Representative Benson. “The included provisions on traffic stop data collection will allow us to examine this data annually and detect issues of racial profiling in policing.”

The bill defines hands-free mode as one that engages in voice communication with and receiving audio without touching, holding or otherwise manually manipulating a device. Law enforcement officials will issue warnings to drivers for first offenses of the new law until March 31, 2020. Additionally, this legislation improves transparency in public safety by expanding access to traffic stop data. It has been 15 years since the last public report on traffic stop data; under the new law, the state will publish and analyze the data annually.

The bill also:

  • Allows drivers to use mapping or navigation devices or apps if they are affixed to the windshield, dashboard or central console or integrated into the vehicle and only involve a tap or swipe;
  • Exempts use of electronics in the case of an emergency and for first responders;
  • Penalizes drivers with a $100 fine for the first offense, a $250 fine and safety course for the second offense and a $500 fine and surcharge for third and subsequent offenses;
  • Expands data collection, including age, race, gender, and location when police issue a citation;
  • Holds law enforcement agencies accountable, if data suggests agencies may be engaging in racial profiling, by requiring them to collect data on all traffic stops for one-year and provide bias training;
  • Requires the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) to publish data online annually
  • Mandates EOPSS to contract with a research institution to conduct an annual analysis of the data;
  • Directs 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
  • Creates a public awareness campaign informing and educating drivers on the dangers of using technological devices while driving.

The bill now goes to the governor.