I sometimes occupy my mind while walking Wellesley’s streets by tracking the % of drivers I see looking at their cellphones. It’s often disturbingly high, like 75% or more some mornings on Linden Street near the train station. Though I only noticed about 1 out of 15 during my latest count on that strip, and he was using the down-low method where I couldn’t be absolutely sure it was a phone he was viewing.The Wellesley Police Department, professionally trained in such observations, will soon be taking a sharper look at such driver behavior in light of the new Hands-Free free going into effect in Massachusetts on Feb. 23.
The law essentially prohibits you from holding a mobile/electronic device while driving. All operation of the mobile device has to be in a hands-free manner with very exceptions, such as making a 911-call. No, you can’t check your texts while stopped at a red light. Drivers under the age of 18 are already restricted from any mobile device use, including in hands-free mode, while driving.
Until March 31, 2020, drivers who violate this law will be issued a warning. After that, drivers could receive a $100 fine the first time, then $250 plus a distracted driving program on second offense, and $500 and a whole ugly prize package for three or more offenses
This will replace the previous law MGL Chapter 90 section 13 which allowed the use of a mobile phone as long as one hand remained on the steering wheel
I asked Wellesley Police Lt. Marie Cleary how the local force would be enforcing the new law. She says, “This is a law that will be enforced as violations are observed. It would likely be pretty apparent to an officer if a motorist is talking on their cell phone when it is not in ‘hands free mode.’ If a motorist is holding the cell phone in their hand, holding it to their ear, etc.”
I also asked whether Wellesley tracks crashes tied to phone use.
“Currently the information that is tracked for driver contributions to crashes does not specify phone use,” Cleary says. “There is a code that tracks if a driver was distracted, but that could be for many reasons.”