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What You Need To Know About The New Distracted Driving Law In Mass.02:27
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A driver talks on a cell phone while driving in Newark, N.J. in 2008. (Mike Derer/AP)
A driver talks on a cell phone while driving in Newark, N.J. in 2008. (Mike Derer/AP)

Drivers will soon be banned from using any hand-held devices, like cellphones, while behind the wheel.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed the bill into law Monday, bringing Massachusetts in line with the other five New England states with bans in place.

Baker said the law will help significantly to end distracted driving in Massachusetts.

"Operators driving a car should not be holding a phone to text, check social media or email," he said. "When a driver on an electronic device hits something or someone, that's not an accident. It's a crash that was avoidable."

Here's what you need to know about the new law:

What does it ban?

Any use of a hand-held device while driving. That means no scrolling, swiping, typing or otherwise using or holding a cellphone while behind the wheel.

You'll have to use voice to text, speakerphone or another hands-free way to talk or text while driving.

Wasn't there already a ban on texting and driving?

Yes, but it didn't ban other types of handheld phone usage. And there's a lot more you can do on a phone than text.

When does it go into effect? 

Enforcement can begin 90 days from when the bill was signed — so Feb. 23.

What if I get caught?

There will be a grace period until the end of March 2020. So if you're stopped, only expect a warning. But after that, a first offense will mean a $100 fine; second offense $250; and a third or any subsequent offense will cost you $500. Habitual offenders could also be subjected to auto insurance surcharges or driver training.

"There's a culture of cellphone use that needs to change and part of that requires enforcement which is why we needed this law," Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said. "It gives us the opportunity to reeducate those who may get multiple citations under this law by having them take a course."

Who's watching who gets ticketed?

The law directs the Registry of Motor Vehicles to collect demographic data for every traffic stop ending with a handheld device citation. That data will be analyzed by an outside agency for any irregularities — like racial profiling.

If any police agency is found to be stopping one group of drivers more than others, the agency could be subject to more intense data gathering.

This segment aired on November 26, 2019.

Steve Brown Twitter Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.

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