September 1, 2010 | by Attorney Michael Doherty

In July 2010, Governor Deval Patrick signed a new law that makes it illegal to text while driving starting September 30, 2010. The law comes in the wake of a recent study that found texting while driving makes an individual twenty times more like to be involved in a car crash or near-crash. The goal of the law is to increase public awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and hopefully reduce the number of accidents caused by texting motorists.

Changes in the law

Starting September 30, 2010, the new law makes it illegal for any operator of a motor vehicle to “use a mobile telephone, or any handheld device capable of accessing the internet, to manually compose, send or read an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle.” The new law does not ban the use of a cellular phone for making telephone calls, as long as “1 hand remains on the steering wheel at all times.”

Additionally, the new law imposes stricter restrictions on individuals under the age of 18 years old. The new law bars drivers under age 18 from using any mobile electronic device while driving, which includes phone calls. However, the law does contain a number of very limited exceptions for emergency situations.

The new laws for adults and individuals under the age of 18 apply even if the motor vehicle is stopped at a red light or at a stop sign. Nothing in the new law restricts an operator from using a personal GPS device.

Fines

An individual caught violating the new law is subject to fines, and license suspension for those under 18 years of age, but the fines will not result in an insurance surcharge. Fines start at $35 for a first violation for adults, and increase for any subsequent violations in a 12 month period. A first offense for individuals under the age of 18 will result in a $100 fine, a 60-day license suspension, and required attendance at an “attitudinal retraining course.”

Other Changes

The new law also makes it easier for police officers and medical professionals to alert the state if they believe an individual is no longer mentally or physically capable of operating a motor vehicle. In addition, the new law also requires individuals 75 or older to appear in person at a registry to take a vision test in order to renew a license. However, the individual does not need to take the vision test if a vision screening certificate is presented from an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

If you have any questions, or wish to inquire further about these recent changes in the law, please contact Michael P. Doherty, or your attorney at Doherty, Ciechanowski, Dugan & Cannon, P.C.