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Massachusetts Distracted Driving Law Takes Effect

The new Massachusetts distracted driving law goes into effect on February 23, 2020.  Until April 1, 2020, traffic officers will only issue warnings to motorists who are observed to be talking or otherwise using a cellphone that is not hands-free to get them accustomed to the new law.

Texting while driving has been banned for all drivers since 2010, regardless of age.  Before the new law was passed, you could handle a cellphone by putting it up to your ear, talking into it, and scrolling for emails, texts, or videos so long as you were at least 18-years old.

What Can Drivers No Longer Do?

With the new law, all motorists must mount their phones on their dashboards, windows, or center consoles if they wish to talk to someone or to use the navigation or GPS on their phones.  You are not allowed to:

  • Text
  • View emails
  • View texts
  • Watch videos

If you are using your mounted cellphone for calls or navigation, you may only push a button or swipe it.  Digitally placing a call, email or text message is a violation.  First responders such as EMTs and firefighters are exempt.  You can also use your phone in whatever manner in an emergency where safety, property, or life is at risk.

Unlike the seat belt law, violation of the distracted driving law is a primary offense.  This means that an officer can stop you if you are observed to be using a cellphone in your hands in any manner whatsoever.  An officer could presumably stop you on suspicion of using a cellphone if you are seen to be looking down while driving.

Is Racial Profiling a Concern?

Legislators balked at prohibiting all hand-held use due to the fear of racial profiling.  In Florida, studies found that officers were stopping African American drivers for seatbelt violations at a greatly disproportionate rate than white drivers once that violation became a primary offense. The Massachusetts seat belt law is a secondary offense, meaning that officers can only cite you for failing to wear a seat belt if you had violated some other traffic offense such as speeding, not stopping for a red traffic light or other offense.

Under our new law, all police departments must maintain data on the race, gender, and age of each person to whom they issue a warning or citation.  If there is evidence that citations are being disproportionately issued to any one class of persons, then measures to reduce the impact will have to be addressed.

What is the Fine or Penalties for a Violation?

Beginning on April 1, 2020, warnings will be replaced by citations. The fine for a cellphone violation will be:

  • 1st offense–$100
  • 2nd offense–$250 and mandatory participation in a distracted driving class
  • 3rd and all subsequent offenses–$500 and insurance surcharge; participation in distracted driving class

 Will the Law Cut Down on Distracted Driving Accidents?

Studies from other states with laws similar to the new law are not encouraging.  Although we might see a reduction in distracted driving accidents for a time, drivers who want to text, view videos or messages, or to hold their phones will find ways to do so without attracting the attention of law enforcement.

A focus on enforcement combined with aggressive public awareness campaigns and classroom education may help to stem this epidemic.

How Will the New Distracted Driving Law Affect Car Accident Claims?

If you were injured in a car accident and the other motorist was suspected of or was found to have been talking on a cellphone, is that evidence of negligence?  By itself, any use of a cellphone is not a legal presumption of negligent conduct.  Your car accident lawyer must show that use of the phone was a substantial factor in causing the accident.  In other words, you still have to prove that some other careless or negligent conduct caused your accident.

Whether a defendant driver was using his cellphone in an accident becomes relevant if liability is contested or there are opposing versions of how the accident occurred, such as which driver drove through a red traffic signal or failed to stop at a stop sign.  If the parties contend that the other unsafely merged into the other’s lane, evidence of texting or other cellphone use might help determine fault.

Cellphone use in an accident can be proved by either eyewitness testimony that the driver was on his phone or was looking down when the accident occurred, by statements the driver made to the investigating officer on the scene, or by subpoenaing phone records that indicate a call or text message was taking place.  In litigation matters, a deposition of the defendant can sometimes lead to contradictory statements that the defendant driver made to police, investigators, or other persons.  If the defendant is exposed as being untruthful or his version of events defy commonsense, this might sway a trier-of-fact to accept your account of the facts.

Consult a Car Accident Lawyer from Burns & Jain

Distracted driving accidents are on the increase and rival those caused by impaired or intoxicated drivers. If you or a loved one was injured in a car accident by a driver suspected of using a cellphone in any manner, call a highly experienced car accident lawyer from Burns and Jain at (617) 221-7971 for a free consultation about your injury claim.