Drivers beware: Hands-free law takes effect this weekend

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PITTSFIELD — Starting Sunday, it will be illegal to use a hand-held device while driving in Massachusetts.

The new state law includes a probationary period through March 31. Those caught breaking the law with phones or other devices in hand will get a warning for first offenses until that point.

Pittsfield Police Sgt. Marc Maddalena said the law will help the department break an unsafe habit. The law allows officers to pull over cars whose drivers have devices in their hands.

"In addition to sitting on the side of the road looking for things like inspection stickers, we'll be looking for a hand-held device in your hand," he said.

The law prohibits phone use in traffic, including at stop signs and at red lights.

"We're just hoping people will be smart about it," Maddalena said, describing the new ban as "common sense" in practice.

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After March 31, a first offense will come with a $100 fine. Second offenses will carry a $250 fine, plus mandatory completion of a distracted driving educational program.

For a third offense, officers can issue $500 fines, in addition to insurance surcharges and a mandatory driving educational program.

While adults are permitted under the law to use hands-free calling and mounted GPS devices, drivers younger than 18 are prohibited from all phone use while driving.

Dave Procopio, media communications director for the Massachusetts State Police, said the state will use a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to deploy extra patrols throughout the state as the law rolls out.

Procopio said the ban will help officers control what has become a leading cause of motor vehicle crashes.

"We have seen distracted driving result in horrific crashes, including head-on collisions in which the distracted driver crosses over the center line and hits an oncoming vehicle, as well as crashes in which drivers veer off highways and enter median strips or the wood line on the side of the road."

Amanda Drane can be contacted at, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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