BOSTON – The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is underscoring the importance of removing distractions while driving, urging drivers as summer vehicle travel increases to please pay attention to the road, reduce speed and drive hands-free of devices. The Registry of Motor Vehicles has recorded 53,638 motor vehicle citations which includes 40,181 warnings for distracted driving since the Baker-Polito Administration’s “hands-free” law took effect on February 23, 2020.
The “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.
“Distracted drivers are a hazard on the road,” said Acting Transportation Secretary and CEO Jamey Tesler. “Drivers must have eyes on the road ahead because even the smallest distraction in a vehicle can have deadly consequences. For your sake and the sake of others traveling on the roads, please put the phone away, drive sober, travel at or below the posted speed limit and pay attention to what’s going on around you while driving.”
“As we look forward to a great summer across New England, we’re counting on every Massachusetts driver to do your part and put the phone away,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Security Thomas Turco. “All of us in public safety remain committed to enforcing the hands-free law and ending distracted driving – to protect motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, and all our neighbors on the road. Texting, scrolling, and posting can wait – please stay alert and travel safely.”
“The RMV encourages drivers to stay vigilant, remain focused, and be aware of others sharing the roadways across the Commonwealth,” said Acting Registrar of Motor Vehicles Colleen Ogilvie. “Distracted driving can have serious and fatal consequences for both experienced drivers and junior operators who have just secured a driver’s license or learner’s permit, so it’s critical to spread the word and communicate the dangers of distracted driving to family members, friends, co-workers and others.”
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. To date, the program has been assigned to operators 161 times, with 74 individuals having completed the online training requirement, and 87 individuals currently required to complete the training. A third or subsequent offense will count as a surchargeable incident.
“We cannot be attentive and defensive drivers if we are distracted by our phones,” said Safe Roads Alliance President Emily Stein. “Hang up and drive for your own safety and for everyone else you share the road with. Hang up for your kids in the backseat, who one day will be drivers themselves. They are watching you closely, and if you text or talk while driving, then it’s more likely for your kids to be distracted when they start driving.”
Key findings from the FY22 Massachusetts Highway Safety Plan are as follows:
-From 2015 to 2019, there were 14,982 fatal crashes involving a distracted driver out of 169,009 total fatal crashes across all fifty states.
-204 fatal crashes of 1,675 during the same time frame, the percentage of fatal crashes involving a distracted driver in Massachusetts was 12%.
-From 2015 to 2019, there were 213 distracted drivers involved in 204 fatal crashes involving a distracted driver.
-From 2015 to 2019, there were 216 fatalities reported in 204 fatal crashes involving a distracted driver.
-From 2015 to 2019, fatal distracted driving crashes occur most often in October, July, and June. These three months accounted for a third of all fatal crashes with a distracted driver.
-Unlike speeding and impaired driving, distracted driving fatal crashes occur more often during the week (Monday – Thursday) than the weekend (Friday – Sunday).
-Massachusetts ranked 27th out of 50 states for fatal crashes involving a distracted driver.
-By roadway type, over half of fatal crashes involving a distracted driver took place along either principal arterial or minor arterial roads.
-Fatal crashes involving a distracted driver are more frequent along roadways with higher traffic volumes and higher posted speed limits than collectors or local roads. For example, nearly 80% of distracted driver-involved fatal crashes occurred on interstates and arterials in Massachusetts, all of which have 35 mph or higher speed limits.
-Overall, 29% (59 of 204) of all distracted driving fatal crashes involved speeding.
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.