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BOSTON – The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is highlighting October as Distracted Driving Awareness Month and the importance of the “hands-free” law, signed by Governor Charlie Baker, which took effect on February 23, 2020. Since the hand-free law took effect, 22,417 motor vehicle citations, including warnings, have been issued to drivers in Massachusetts.

thumbnail_image002The “hands-free” law stipulates that operators of motor vehicles cannot use an electronic device unless the device is being used in hands-free mode. Operators cannot read or view text, images, or videos unless what is being viewed is helping with navigation, and the device is mounted in an appropriate location. Motorists also cannot make phone calls unless they can do so without holding their phones, by utilizing technology such as Bluetooth. The law also requires law enforcement officers to report data on violations that will be shared with the public. The use of phones and all electronic devices, including phones in hands-free mode, remains illegal for drivers under the age of 18.

“Driving safely should be the most important responsibility for anyone who gets behind the wheel,” said Secretary Tom Turco of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.  “That means driving sober, putting away mobile devices, and keeping our eyes on the road.  Distracted Driving Awareness Month is a time to pause and reflect on the importance of giving roadway safety our full attention.”

“Distracted Driving Awareness Month is meant to be a reminder that even the smallest distraction in a vehicle can have deadly consequences,” said Registrar of Motor Vehicles Jamey Tesler. “Simply put, drivers need to be just driving.  We cannot emphasize it enough – drive sober, drive hands-free, drive with your eyes on the road, and do not exceed the posted speed limit.”

MassDOT data shows that during the first several months of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an approximately 65-75% drop in weekday volume on Metropolitan Highway System (MHS) and toll roadways and a 45-50% drop on other state roadways where traffic counts are taken. As of last week, statewide daily traffic volumes were on average about 13% lower than the corresponding 2019 traffic volumes for the same period. To better understand traffic volume data statewide, please visit MassDOT’s Mobility Dashboard at: https://mobility-massdot.hub.arcgis.com/.

Traffic safety experts believe driver inattention is a contributing factor in the increase of crashes. Based on the data from MassDOT’s IMPACT Dashboard, there is a total of 207 fatalities from March to September 2020 compared to 202 fatalities from the same time frame in 2019 – a concerning trend of increased fatalities when traffic volumes are down.

Punishment for violating the hands-free law includes a $100 fine for a first offense, a $250 fine for a second offense, and a $500 fine for a third or subsequent offense. Operators who commit a second or subsequent offense are required to complete an educational program focused on distracted driving prevention. A third or subsequent offense will count as a surchargeable incident.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) reports that 22,417 motor vehicle citations have been issued since the law became effective on February 23, 2020. This includes warnings and 2,885 fineable first offense citations and 18 second offense citations that triggered the educational program requirements.

Under the new law, vehicles without built-in GPS, Apple Car Play, or Android Audio must be equipped with a phone mount on the dash or windshield for GPS navigation.

For motorists not using hands-free technology, the EOPSS Office of Grants and Research offers these additional tips:

  • Before driving, please turn your phone off and put it out of reach.
  • Set your mobile phone to “Do Not Disturb While Driving” mode.
  • Let your friends and family know that you’ll be driving and can’t take their calls or texts.
  • If you have to make a call or send a text, pull over.
  • Watch for pedestrians and bicyclists – especially at night.
  • Remember to buckle up! Seatbelts are your best defense against a distracted driver.

For more information about the hands-free law visit  https://www.mass.gov/service-details/hands-free-law.

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