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  • Writer's pictureDick Ostrander

Hands-Free Law Includes Surcharge Potential, Says Ostrander Insurance

It was a long time coming to Massachusetts, but state law now forbids holding or operating a cellphone while driving a vehicle or a bicycle on public roadways. The new law took effect on Feb. 23, 2020.

Almost all of us have seen others talking or texting on their cellphone while driving. Many of us have even done it ourselves. Those days are now over, legally that is. Henceforth, electronic devices and mobile phones can be used only in hands-free mode. You can touch the device only to initiate hands-free operation. The use of a headphone with a single earpiece is permitted.

Penalties for violating the new hands-free law are as follows:

• 1st offense: $100 fine.

• 2nd offense: $250 fine, plus mandatory completion of a distracted-driving educational program.

• 3rd offense: $500 fine, plus a surcharge and another mandatory distracted-driving education program.

As has been described in this insurance column several times through the years, surcharges are to be avoided at all cost. They hang on your driving record for 6 long years and can end up costing you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Unlike surcharges from accidents, which are to some extent unavoidable, getting a surcharge for operating a cellphone or handheld device is completely avoidable. Although you can appeal an at-fault accident surcharge to the Merit Rating Board at the RMV, you’ll get little mercy from the appeals board for violating the new hands-free law.

A local police officer recently told me he’d have to witness a driver on their phone in order to pull them over and issue a citation, unlike the seat belt law, which doesn’t provide cause to pull a vehicle over.

What is legal under the new law is using a cell phone to call 911 to report an emergency. If possible, however, you should pull over and stop before calling 911. Also, to touch a device in order to activate a GPS navigation device is allowed. Calling or texting while idling at a stop light or red light is no longer legal. You will need to pull off the public roadway and park your car in order to legally make a call from this point forward.

In short, if you aren’t fortunate enough to have Bluetooth technology in your vehicle, it could be time to spend $10 on a simple mobile phone holder for the dashboard of your vehicle. Safe driving is clearly the intent of this new law, and it’s up to each of us to do our part to make it a reality.

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