Mass. House Passes Hands-Free Bill 155-2; Police to Issue Warnings Instead of Fines Until Start of 2020

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State representatives invoked the memories of people killed in distracted driving crashes on Wednesday before voting 155-2 to pass a bill banning motorists from using handheld cellphones and electronic devices behind the wheel, the State House News Service reports. Reps. Peter Durant and David DeCoste voted against the bill.

Massachusetts in 2010 banned drivers from texting and emailing while driving, but stopped short of a full ban on hand-held use to make phone calls. Since 2010, many drivers have continued to text while driving or read emails or even surf the internet, leaving everyone vulnerable to preventable crashes.

In each of the last two sessions Senate has passed so-called hands-free device bills, and that branch plans to take up its own version of the bill on June 6. Senators have filed 28 amendments.

Rep. William Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat who co-chairs the Transportation Committee, said that with widespread cellphone use, “a traffic hazard has exploded on the roads of the commonwealth and frankly around the country” over the last 10 to 15 years.

The bill prohibits the use of mobile electronic devices by drivers unless the device is being used in hands-free mode, with a single touch or swipe allowed to active hands-free operation. The restriction would not apply to public safety personnel or first responders performing their duties, and drivers could still use mobile electronic devices in certain emergency situations.

Violations would be punished by $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense, and $500 for third or later offenses.

The bill would take effect 90 days after becoming law, and Straus said between that date and the beginning of 2020, police officers would issue warnings instead of fines to anyone they pull over for violations.

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