Distracted Driving Laws in Massachusetts
Massachusetts decided to deal with its distracted driving issues by establishing laws that prevent motorists from being distracted while operating a vehicle. Thus, the state legislature has passed some very stringent laws to discourage such behavior and cut down on the number of accidents related to distractions, many of which also result in property damage and bodily harm. Overall, distracted driving facts reveal that over 3,000 fatalities in 2016 caused by motor vehicle accidents in the United States. These fatalities could have been prevented if driving distractions had been reduced or avoided altogether.
According to recent studies, the number of motorists engaging in distracted driving behavior rose 30 percent since 2013. Almost half of all motorists, or 49 percent, admit to talking on the phone while driving their cars, while 35 percent of drivers admit to using their handheld devices to either send or receive text messages while operating a vehicle.
What is distracted driving in Massachusetts?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), distracted driving is defined as the action of driving a car and shifting your focus in some manner away, placing your attention on something that is not related to the operation of a motor vehicle. Distracted driving accidents are the causes of thousands of injuries, fatalities and property damages. Therefore, the CDC has categorized the different driving distractions according to how they happen to distract motorists. These definitions include the following:
- Manual – Manual driving distractions are activities in which you engage behind the wheel that cause you to take your hand off of the steering wheel. The sorts of tasks that fall into this category include activities such as eating, smoking and taking care of your grooming needs, such as shaving, combing your hair or applying your makeup.
- Visual – The act of texting and driving is a very common visual distraction. As all visual distractions do, texting while driving takes your eyes off the road and focuses them on your device or whatever other activity you happen to be engaged with, such as tuning the radio or trying to find something inside your car.
- Cognitive – Driving while distracted may include other behaviors that engage your mental focus on something other than the driving environment. For instance, this may include speaking with other people, whether in your car or over the phone.
Distracted Driving Laws in Massachusetts for Handheld Devices
In 2010, Massachusetts passed a distracted driving law that prohibits motorists from sending, typing or reading any form of electronic messages while operating a vehicle. This law encompasses emails, text messages, instant messages or other social media notifications. Furthermore, all internet usage is banned for a motorist who is driving a car. The following actions are subject to a distracted driving ticket in MA:
- Using any handheld electronic device that is not necessary for the operation of a motor vehicle, such as:
- Handheld electronic games
- Text messaging devices
- Handheld computers
- Any other device used to send or receive emails
- Any cellular phone used to access wireless communication services
According to Massachusetts distracted driving laws, operating a vehicle is defined as having a running motor, even if the car has stopped moving while in traffic, such as at a stop sign or at a traffic light. On the other hand, laws against distracted driving do not apply to vehicles that are safely stopped on the side of the road, or that are pulled off the road and stopped somewhere safe for motorists to use their phones or other handheld devices.
Texting and Driving Laws in Massachusetts
Texting while driving laws are also strictly enforced in Massachusetts. As a general rule, texting while driving includes operating any handheld electronic device that is not considered a component of the vehicle. Thus, drivers of all ages and skill levels are banned from sending, reading or composing any type of text or electronic message while behind the wheel. Texting and driving laws are extended to all types of electronic devices, not just cell phone. Also, because this is a primary law, law enforcement officers are not required to have another reason for pulling over a motorist other than the fact that he or she was using a cell phone while driving.
Massachusetts Laws on Distracted Driving for Novice Drivers
Laws on distracted driving in Massachusetts are particularly stringent for novice drivers, which are motorists who are younger than 18 years of age. The law bans such drivers from utilizing any cell phone while driving, whether it is being used in conjunction with a hand-free or handheld device. Furthermore, distracted driving laws in MA prohibit novice drivers from using any sort of electronic communication device. This is a primary law, meaning that a law enforcement officer does not need another reason to conduct a stop and issue a traffic ticket for this offense.
Massachusetts Distracted Drivers Regulations for CDL Holders
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) forbids all motorists who hold commercial driver’s licenses from cell phone use while driving. Moreover, bus drivers in MA are forbidden to use either handheld or hands-free devices while operating those vehicles.
Distracted Driving Penalties in Massachusetts
Distracted driving fines are issued to offenders who use electronic devices such as mobile phones, text messaging devices, pagers, PDAs, laptop computers, any type of video gaming device or device to take, send or receive photos. However, devices used for navigation or in case of an emergency are exceptions. Examples of distracted driving ticket fines include:
- First offense: $100 fine, 60-day suspension and attitudinal course
- Second offense: $250 fine and a 180-day suspension
- Third and subsequent offenses: $500 fine and a one-year suspension
Note: Distracted driving penalties for public transportation drivers using a phone are an estimated $500 for each infraction. Because these are civil in nature, they will not result in an auto insurance surcharge.
If you are 18 years of age or older and violated laws against distracted driving in Massachusetts, these will be considered civil matters. The penalties associated with these infractions are:
- First offense: $35 assessment
- Second offense within 12 months: $75 assessment
- Third offense within 12 months: $150 assessment
Texting and driving fines are civil infractions and do not carry insurance surcharges. They are assessed as follows:
- First offense: $100 fine
- Second offense: $250 fine
- Third offense: $500 fine
Any injury that results from a motorist’s cell phone use while driving is a criminal offense and carries with it an insurance surcharge. The penalties for motorists who are 18 years of age or older include:
- First offense: 60-day suspension
- Second or subsequent offense within 3 years: 1-year suspension and $500 reinstatement fee
Ways to Prevent Distracting Driving in Massachusetts
There are ways to stop texting and driving as well as other activities that can result in distractions while driving. Some tips that can help reduce the odds of a distracted driving accident include the following:
- Use your cell phone in emergency situations only.
- Tired motorists are four times more likely to have an accident. Pull over and rest.
- Limit the number of passengers you have in your vehicle as well as their activity levels.
- Do not eat while driving.
- Do not multi-task, as this is a leading cause to distracted driving.