What You Need to Know About Distracted Driving in Massachusetts

Distracted driving has become as dangerous as intoxicated driving in causing accidents, serious injuries and fatalities.  It has been no secret since cellphone use became ubiquitous years ago that cellphone use and any other activity that takes a driver’s focus off of operating a motor vehicle is a recipe for disaster.  However, state legislators across the nation, including Massachusetts, have been slow to react to this clear and present danger.

What is Distracted Driving?

From 2014 to 2016, distracted driving crashes increased by an astounding 170% over the preceding years. Although we equate distracted driving with cellphone use, it does include any other activity that distracts or takes the driver’s attention away from driving. This can mean:

  • Grooming
  • Eating
  • Reading
  • Fiddling with the radio
  • Rubbernecking
  • Talking with passengers or dealing with children or a pet

But according to the National Safety Council, around 26% of all car accidents involve a driver who was using a phone.  Prior to 2019 when Massachusetts Governor Baker signed into law new legislation strictly banning any use of a hands-on device while driving, police felt restricted in citing drivers for texting since a driver could simply say that she was using a GPS device or a map, an activity that the prior law permitted, and was not making a call or sending or reading a text. 

The current law now bans any use of a cellphone by drivers 18 and under. It requires adult drivers to mount their phones to their dashboards or elsewhere in the vehicle and to use a Bluetooth device to talk while driving. The law as it applies to drivers 18 and over is:

  • Only use phones that are in hands-free mode 
  • Only touch your phone to activate the hands-free mode
  • All phones in use must be temporarily or permanently affixed to the windshield, dashboard, or center console and in a way that does not impede the safe operation of the vehicle 
  • Your phone is not to be used for texting, emailing, video, or internet use
  • Use of GPS device or app is permitted so long as the phone is properly mounted
  • No hand-use of phone at traffic stops or while stopped in traffic unless stationary and the driver is not on a public travel lane

There are exceptions to the law. You can use your phone in emergency situations where:

  • Your vehicle is incapacitated from engine trouble or an accident
  • To call 911 that is necessary for the personal safety of yourself or others
  • To report a disabled vehicle or accident

Penalties for Distracted Driving Violations

The penalties for distracted driving are not that onerous unless you have multiple violations:

  • First violation: $100 fine
  • Second violation: $250
  • Third and all subsequent violations: $500

A first violation will not result in points on your driving record. All subsequent violations will require the offender to attend a court-approved program to educate the person about distracted driving and its dangers.  For insurance purposes, only a third and subsequent offense is a surchargeable incident that will result in increasing your premiums.

How to Manage Distractions While Driving 

We all carry our cellphones with us everywhere we go and feel naked without them.  But in order to avoid driving while distracted and putting yourself, your passengers, and other drivers and pedestrians in danger by not paying attention to driving, the following are what we recommend:

  • Turn your phone off before starting your vehicle
  • If you need to use your phone for navigation or other use, be sure it is properly mounted
  • Know how to activate the hands-free mode although this can be automatically activated in most vehicles 
  • Use voice commands to operate your phone
  • Refrain from eating or grooming in the car
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times
  • Be sure your children and pets are secure and will not be moving around the vehicle 
  • Know where you are going before you set out 

Proving Distracted Driving in Car Accident Injury Claims

If you are injured in a car accident, contact a car accident attorney from Burns and Jain.  Having our office handle your claim from the outset will give you a better opportunity to get the compensation you deserve. If you suspect that the other driver was using a cellphone in the moments before the accident, we can investigate to determine if it was a factor in your accident.

Newer motor vehicles, passenger and many commercial vehicles, have on-board data recorders or EDRs that contain vital data in the seconds before, during, and after a collision.  Data can reveal that the operator failed to brake at all before colliding, served abruptly, or was traveling at a speed too fast for conditions or in excess of the posted limit.  New standards allow police to search a cellphone at the scene to see if the operator was texting, sending an email, or otherwise using the phone while driving.

In serious or fatal accidents, our investigators can search the area for possible video surveillance cameras that may have recorded the accident. If liability is an issue, an accident reconstruction expert can examine the scene, property damage, statements, and other evidence to reconstruct the accident to show that you were not at fault. 

Retain a Car Accident Attorney from Burns and Jain 

At Burns and Jain, a highly experienced car accident attorney will fully investigate your auto injury claim and counsel you on the steps involved in getting you compensated for your lost earnings, medical expenses, and other damages. Call us today at (617) 227-7423 for a free consultation about your injury claim.