Cell phones and driving can be a bad combination. Cell phones as with many other new(er) technologies have had a negative impact to the extent that laws have had to change. As technology continues to advance, the legal system has felt the need to adapt and modernize as well. Technology is a faced paced industry and the legal system is a slow-moving system. The law has a hard time keeping up with new tech. Advanced technology is innovative and a fast-changing environment; therefore, it’s almost impossible to allow the lengthy regulatory process to run its course in parallel. Sometimes, by the time a regulation is finally approved, the product or service has changed. Many of our laws remain in statute books, untouched since the day they were made. It is difficult to find the balance between passing laws quickly to keep pace with new technology and waiting to gain a thorough understanding to create accurate legislation. Even with efforts to regulate technology, the legislation may be out-dated before any meaningful progress is made. That said, the laws around cell phones and driving have changed, even here in Massachusetts.

Cell phone use while driving has become a leading cause of vehicle crashes over the last two decades. Using a cell phone while driving increases the driver’s risk of causing a crash. Drivers are distracted, decreasing the driver’s awareness on the road, leading to more car crashes. In 2017 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,166 people were killed in 2,935 distraction-affected crashes, accounting for 9 percent of all fatal crashes in the United States. Cell phones are not just about texting—multiple behaviors, such as social media, messaging apps, GPS, and music, have the potential to draw attention away from the road. Cell phone use behind the wheel reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.

Various laws in the United States regulate the use of mobile phones and other electronics by drivers. Different states take different approaches. Do you know the cell phone driving laws in Massachusetts? Things have changed recently!

According to Mass.gov, effective February 23, 2020, Massachusetts’ new hands-free law makes it illegal for drivers to hold any electronic device while driving, even if the vehicle is stationary (e.g. stopped at a red light or stuck in traffic). All devices must be properly mounted and can only be used in “hands-free” mode. Penalties start at $100.  After two offenses, distracted driving will cost you $500, plus a mandatory course on distracted driving and an insurance surcharge.

So, beginning on February 23, 2020, MA drivers can only use mobile devices in hands-free mode.” Drivers under 18 cannot use mobile devices at all, not even in hands-free mode. There will be a short grace period for first-time violators who are holding their phones and talking while driving. If you’re cited between February 23, 2020 and March 31, 2020, you will only receive a warning.

If you’ve been a victim in an accident, including distracted driving, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Call Schulze Law today to assess your options. Distracted driving is a serious and dangerous offense and we have the knowledge to ensure you are taken care of.

Here are some common questions and answers with the help of Boston.com:

What exactly is hands-free mode?
If you’re making a call, both hands must be free to operate the car.

If I’m driving and my phone starts ringing, how can I answer if I can’t hold or touch my phone?

The law allows “a single tap or swipe to activate, deactivate or initiate” hands-free mode on your phone. That’s the limit.

Can I make a call while driving?
Yes, if you can do it without touching your phone. That means using a voice command or virtual assistant like Siri.

Can I use voice-to-text messaging?
Yes, if you’re following the one-touch rules and can use voice commands to receive or dictate a message.

Is there any time I can hold my phone while driving in public?
The law does have an exception for emergencies.

If I need to hold my phone to use it for a non-emergency reason, what can I do?
You could pull off into breakdown lane or onto the shoulder of the road, as long as you’re not blocking traffic.

What if I’m stopped at a stop sign or traffic light?
No, you’re technically still in a travel lane.

Can I still look at my phone for things like Google Maps and Waze?
Yes, but only if you set it up before you start driving.

What about Spotify?

Ok, so now what? What are the options? Remember, hands-free doesn’t mean risk-free. In order to be the safest, you need your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and your mind on driving. That said, there are options that will comply with the new regulations. Most new vehicles, and many newer used ones, already have the tools equipped for hands-free phone use. If your car is on the older side, there are plenty of affordable aftermarket accessories that will make sure you are in compliance.

Here’s the scoop on hands-free options, again with the help of Boston.com:

  1. Bluetooth:

Bluetooth has been available in vehicles for about a decade, and it’s among the most commonly available hands-free features on this list. After your phone is paired via Bluetooth, you can make and receive calls, and most set-ups will even allow you to stream music from your phone.

To set it up, look for a phone icon, either on the steering wheel or among the dash buttons. Most systems will prompt an ID that appears both on the phone and the car’s radio or instrument panel display. Once you pair your device, it will automatically reconnect every time you get into your vehicle.

For iPhone users, some later model cars even have Siri EyesFree, which allows you to control Siri by holding down the voice control or phone button for an extra second. With Siri EyesFree, you can compose, send, and receive text messages, all using voice control.

  1. Aftermarket Bluetooth devices:

There are several devices on the market that can turn any car into a Bluetooth-enabled vehicle. Some emit a radio frequency that you can tune into from your car’s stereo. Others are as simple as a small Bluetooth speakerphone that mounts onto a visor. The visor-mounted device has a “phone” button that allows you to answer incoming calls and initiate outgoing ones.

  1. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto:

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto provide most of your phone’s functionality from your vehicle’s infotainment system. These systems project selected apps onto a touchscreen interface that has the look and feel of your phone, text messages, Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze, podcasts and radio apps, and more.

The tech giants have worked for years to seamlessly integrate their platforms with a range of automakers. Apple and Android provide comprehensive lists of vehicles that support this technology.

Connecting with Android Auto requires plugging the phone into a USB port. Nearly all cars with CarPlay require to connect via a USB port, though some select late-model Audi, BMW, Mini, and Mercedes-Benz models provide wireless CarPlay.

  1. Phone cradle:

If your car doesn’t have Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, or Android Auto, the simplest and most affordable route is to get a phone cradle.

These cradles often plug right into a climate control vent or mount to the dashboard or windshield via a suction cup or another adhesive. Per the new law, the phone must be in hands-free driving mode. Luckily, modern mobile devices have a “hands-free” mode that allows you to control, say, an iPhone by using Siri.

  1. Aftermarket stereo head units:

If your car is old enough that it doesn’t have Bluetooth, it’s likely also old enough that its radio, CD, or other head unit could be swapped out with a newer one with built-in Bluetooth functionality.

When you’re behind the wheel of a car driving safely should always be your top concern. In today’s world, we’re more distracted than ever, so it’s crucial to know the basics of safe driving and practice them every time you’re on the road. The best safety measure is to completely avoid the use of cell phones. If you must use them, be sure to follow the new regulations and be equipped with hands-free driving. Call Schulze Law if you’ve been in an accident involving distracted driving. We’re here for you, 24/7!!!