• Everything You Need to Know About Hands-Free MA

    By Marie McGrath | Posted Monday, March 2nd, 2020

Myths, Misinformation and Why it Matters by Emily Stein, President of Safe Roads Alliance

Safe Roads Alliance's mission is to improve the skills of drivers of all ages and affect public policy as it relates to improving the safety of and on roads in Massachusetts.

As President of Safe Roads Alliance, Stein, who has a Master's in Public Health from Brooklyn College and has worked as a nurse for a decade, helped build a coalition of Massachusetts Families affected by distracted driving, traffic safety organizations, advocates and legislators needed to ultimately pass Hands Free in Mass. Massachusetts is now the 21st state in the US to pass a Hand's Free law.

But for Emily Stein, ending distracted driving is also personal.

Massachusetts is officially a ‘Hands-Free State.’ What does that actually mean?

Simply put, drivers cannot hold the phone in their hand. They also can’t manipulate the phone if it’s mounted – only 1 touch or 1 swipe is allowed to answer a call. This law applies anytime a driver is in the roadway, meaning they cannot hold the phone in their hand or manipulate the phone at stoplights or while stuck in traffic.

What’s the difference between this new law and the old one that prohibited texting and driving?

The previous law was solely a texting ban. Programming a GPS or dialing a phone number were still permitted, which was dangerous and difficult to enforce. The new hands-free bill is now very clear on what the driver can and cannot do with their phone.

But I need GPS to get around! Is that allowed?

This is a trickier, but very important question. If the driver is under 18 years old, they are not allowed to use the phone or any electronic device. Period. Even those old GPS devices like Garmin cannot be used. The goal here is to keep our new drivers safe and focused only on the road. It’s an important reminder to review the route before you drive!

If the driver is over 18: drivers are allowed to use GPS or other navigation system on their phone, but it must be programmed before driving, and the driver cannot interact with the device. It must be mounted or affixed to the car’s windshield, dashboard, or center console, but in a place that does not obstruct the driver’s view or impede operation of the car.

What about music? I’ve gotta have my tunes and podcasts.

Best advice: get everything ready before you go. This includes programming your music or finding a podcast. Pick your playlist and then Hands-Off for the rest of the trip. Technically if you’re under 18, you cannot use an electronic device, so rely on the good ol’ radio for your music. But the radio still has some great songs! And cars still have CD players…right?!

Can I FaceTime while I’m driving?

In no circumstance, shape or form is FaceTime or any other video chat allowed. No Vlogging, no watching the soccer match or Netflix. We’ve seen it all, and it’s all extremely unsafe, and quite selfish, too. While we’re on the topic of cameras, even if the sunset is really beautiful, or you’ve stopped to watch a family of adorable geese crossing the road, please leave the phone alone and don’t take a picture. Using the camera function is not allowed under the new law.

My car is old and doesn’t have Bluetooth. How can I be hands-free?

Safest option: put the phone away and #justdrive. If you are over 18 and have to be connected, there are a variety of devices that can be used in your car to allow hands-free use of your phone. If you have a tape deck, there’s this. This Bluetooth adaptor plugs into your car’s AUX port.

So what happens if you get stopped for driving digitally distracted?

Again, this depends on the age of the driver. If a teen driver under 18 is pulled over and cited for use of the phone while driving, the penalties are not a joke: 60-day suspension of their permit, $100 permit reinstatement fee, a required driver attitudinal adjustment course, and $100 to reapply for your permit. And that’s just for the first offense. If you get caught again, you’re looking at 6 months with a suspended permit. There’s a lot to know here, so all the information on the JOL law in MA can be found here: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/junior-operator-violations

If the driver is over 18 and is pulled over for holding the phone, the 1st offense will cost you $100. The 2nd offense will be $250 and the driver is required to take a Distracted Driving course with the RMV. If you’re REALLY not getting the message, and you get a 3rd offense, then you’ll be required to pay $500, and now this is a surchargable offense, meaning your insurance premium will go up! Soooo…#justdrive

One last question: why are you involved in this work?

I do this work because it’s personal. My dad was killed in 2011 by someone who was programming her GPS while driving. He was 61, three months short of becoming a grandpa. He was my best teacher. For my dad, and for all the other victims and survivors in our state and across the country, I do this work to prevent anyone else from losing someone they love because of something as preventable as distracted driving.

Boston, Massachusetts – Emily Stein, President of Safe Roads Alliance, speaks at the signing of the Hands Free Massachusetts law at the State House on November 25, 2019. Cover image: Governor Charlie Baker shakes Emily Stein’s hand at the Massachusetts State House on November 25, 2019, just having signed the Hand’s Free bill into law.