Massachusetts: Cell phone laws, legislation

Last updated: November 27, 2017
Cell phone, text messaging news: Gov. Charlie Baker called upon state lawmakers to get a handheld cell phone bill to his desk before the end of the 2018 legislative session. Baker pointed to an increase in accidents and deaths on Massachusetts roads. Baker said “many cases” were due to distracted driving, saying he was convinced by data that’s “pretty compelling.” The Senate has approved several handheld cell phone measures, but neither found success in the House. The state has a texting law, but it’s considered ineffectual in halting distracted driving accidents.

massachusetts-flag In June, the Senate approved a plan to bar use of handheld communications devices (smartphones) while driving in Massachusetts. Drivers would be allowed to touch their cell phones only to tap or single swipe the screen in order to active hands-free functions. The measure would expand the current texting & driving law to cover most Internet-related activities. Fines range from $100 to $500. The plan was OK’d June 29 but again there was no follow-up in the House.

All of Massachusetts’ neighboring states have cell phone driving laws, with the enactment of New Hampshire’s law in summer 2015.

Current prohibitions:

  • Text messaging banned for all drivers, as well as other Internet-related activities. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $250, then $500.
  • Cell phone use prohibited for drivers under 18, as well as use of other mobile electronics. Fines as above, plus graduated license suspensions.
  • School bus operators and other public transit drivers barred from using cell phones while driving. Fine: $500.

Read the statutes: Texting | Teen drivers | Transit drivers

Distracted driving legislation (2017-18):

Senate Bill 2092: Would outlaw use of handheld mobile electronic devices while driving. Allows for tap or single swipe to activate hands-free functions. Prohibits range of Internet activities such as social media use, texting and viewing videos. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $250, then $500. Approved by the full Senate in a voice vote of June 29.

House Bill 3660: Would prohibit use of handheld cell phones while driving in Massachusetts. Approved by Transportation with unanimous vote of May 1. (Joint Committee on Transportation)

H1233: Would require drivers to use of hands-free accessories when using cell phones. Fine revenues would go to new police training fund. Fines: $500 (first offense), then $1,000, then $1,500. (Atkins)

H1792: Would increase fines for texting & driving to $250 with license suspension of 90 days (first offense), then fine of $500 (second offense) and then fine of $750. (Ayers)

H1834: Would increase fines for jaywalking and double penalties for crossing street while using electronic devices and/or wearing headphones. Fines: $50 to $200. (Garry)

H1881: Seeks to prohibit use of cell phones while operating a motor vehicle within school zones. (Provost)

H1882: Would bar use of cell phones while driving in Massachusetts. (Provost)

H1892: Would bar use of cell phones while driving. (Straus)

H2690: Would require cell phone providers to offer safe-driving applications for teenagers. Apps would block texts, nonessential phone calls, Internet use, etc. (Dykema)

H334: Would outlaw use of handheld cell phones while driving. (Wagner)

SB 1962: Would ban use of handheld mobile electronic devices while driving. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $250, then $500. Moving violation after two offenses. (Montigny)

Distracted driving notes (2017):
Gov. Charlie Baker previously was skeptical of a handheld cell phone ban, but changed his mind. He told a pre-Thanksgiving press conference: “You don’t need a Bluetooth in your car anymore to be able to drive on a hands-free basis and still be able to do some of the things that people need to do, and we think it’s time for us to weigh the circumstances and the difficulties and in some cases the dangers associated with distracted driving up against the benefits and the opportunities associated with hands free.”

The Joint Committee on Transportation advanced its plan to bar use of handheld communications devices (smartphones). The committee’s House Bill 3660 folds in several similar distracted driving measures proposed for the 2017-18 session. Safety advocates argue that the state’s 2010 texting ban has become outdated. HB 3660 would modernize the distracted driving law to include bans on accessing social media and using any camera functions such as video calling. The Senate approved a handheld cell phone ban in 2016 while the House approved a similar plan in 2015.

State Rep. Carolyn Dykema seeks to require wireless providers to offer smartphone applications that would restrict teenagers’ use of cell phones while driving. She calls the app “a tool that parents can use to keep their kids safe.” A representative of Verizon told lawmakers that no app exists that singles out the driver — all passengers would be affected as well.

2016 distracted driving notes:
No distracted driving legislation emerged from the 2015-2016 legislative session. The full Massachusetts Senate approved a hands-free bill on a voice vote in January 2016. The bill was sent to the House, where it expired in the House Ways and Means Committee. The House OK’d its own ban on drivers’ use of handheld cell phones in November 2015. It remains unclear if Gov. Charlie Baker would approve either plan.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg said before the vote on the handheld device ban: “A lot of people’s lives are being put in danger as a result of people who are using their cell phones, and it’s just time to sweep that source of problem off the table.”

State Rep. Joe Wagner says a handheld cell phone ban is “the only way to effectively enforce the ban on texting.” He says he hopes “it doesn’t take something horrific” to advance the legislation.

State Sen. Sen. Mark Montigny says there is “no excuse” not to pass a ban on handheld cell phone use. “There’s no more data that needs to be collected or public hearings to be held. The support for it is overwhelming.”

Senate passage of the handheld device bill SB 2093 came Jan. 21 after consideration of 24 amendments and approval of half of them. Fines for using handheld devices such as smartphones would be the same as under the current texting & driving law.

Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, who filed many of the amendments to the Senate’s hands-free measure, sought to remove insurance-related penalties and provide amnesty for first-time offenders who show proof of purchase of a hands-free accessory. Those plans were rejected. Accepted was a requirement that serial offenders receive education on the perils of distracted driving.

The full House approved a ban on drivers’ use of handheld cell phones Nov. 17, 2015. A confirming vote did not immediately follow. The legislation, H3315 (below), comes from state Rep. William Straus, who is the House chairman of the Joint Transportation Committee.

2015-16 distracted driving legislation:
Senate Bill 2093: Would outlaw use of electronic communications devices unless in hands-free mode. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $250, then $500. Third and subsequent offenses are moving violations. As amended, driver education course required for serial offenders. Amended and approved by the full Senate in a voice vote of Jan. 21. To the House. (Senate Committee on Rules)

H3315: Would require mobile telephone users to be in hands-free mode while operating a motor vehicle. Approved by the Joint Transportation Committee on Oct. 15. Before the House Steering Committee. (Straus)

H2946: Seeks tougher penalties for distracted driving violations. Penalties would be $250 and a permit or license suspension of 90 days for a first offense; fine of $500 for a second offense; fine of $750 for subsequent offenses. Would give insurance companies access to distracted driving infraction records. Specifies drivers can be fined while paused in traffic. See H3014, below. (Ayers)

H3064: Would outlaw use of mobile phones while driving through school zones. Fines: $100 then $200 then $300. (Poirier)

H3068: Would bar use of mobile phones while driving. Accompanied H3315 as of Oct. 15. (Provost)

H3119: Would require drivers using mobile telephones to be in hands-free mode. Accompanied H3315 as of Oct. 15. (Wagner)

H3122: Amends penalties for mobile device use by drivers under age 18, adding a $250 reinstatement fee. (Walsh)

H3307: Would require wireless service carriers to provide an application that prohibits texting while driving by users under the age of 18. (Dykema)

H3474: Would require hands-free operation of mobile phone while driving. Fines: $500 to $1,500. (Atkins)

S1815: Would ban handheld operation of mobile phones while driving. (Creem)

S1858: Would allow only hands-free operation of mobile phone while driving. Fines: $100 then $250 then $500. Moving violation. (Montigny)

S1872: Would increase distracted driving fines to $200, then $500, then $500 with 90-day license suspension. Also would ban use of cell phones while driving through school zones. (Rush)

2015 distracted driving notes:
Gov. Charlie Baker isn’t committed one way or the other on a state ban on handheld cell phone use. “The technology on this stuff has gotten a lot more sophisticated than it was five years or so ago when it was last discussed here,” the governor said in early October. Almost a dozen distracted driving bills are before the General Court for 2015-2016.

State Rep. Cory Atkins, who seeks a ban on handheld cell phone use by motorists, says: “I think this is a really critical issue to make our highways safe for everybody, for young and old drivers alike.” She cites an “absolute crisis” resulting from drivers’ use of cell phones, an activity not regulated for adults.

The Joint Transportation Committee heard testimony Oct. 6 from families who’d been victimized by distracted drivers. Committee members then on Oct. 15 approved H3315 (above), from state Rep. William Straus, who is the House chairman of the panel.

State Sen. Thomas McGee, Senate chairman of the Transportation Committee, supports a ban on handheld cell phone use and is optimistic one could succeed in the current two-year General Court session. But, “There’s always the opposition every time you put more regulations in place,” McGee told Fox25.

“The time has come” for a handheld cell phone ban, state Sen. Thomas McGee told the State House News Service as his Transportation Committee reviewed the swarm of distracted driving bills on offer. “I looked forward to supporting this and hopefully getting it passed this session.”

State Rep. William Straus, sponsor of H3315, says there is “no personal liberty to create unnecessary hazards” on the roadways. He’s the House chairman of the legislature’s transportation committee.

Law officers in Massachusetts have written about 15,000 citations under the electronic distracted driving laws since the texting ban was enacted in 2010, the Highway Safety Office says. Law officers say their ability to enforce the laws is hampered by an inability to tell if drivers are texting (illegal) or entering phone numbers into their handheld communications devices (legal).

State Rep. Cory Atkins hosted a panel discussion on distracted driving April 1. “The consequences (of cell phone use while driving) can be fatal,” Atkins said. “There are too many things accessible by phone now, too, so the opportunity for distractions has increased exponentially.”

“An investigation” by Fox25 and Northeastern University’s School of Journalism found enforcement of the state texting law is “limited and ineffective.” “The inability to enforce the ban is not only putting lives at risk, but also causing the state to lose out on millions of dollars in federal funding,” their report said.

Cell phone use was linked to 39 crashes in 2013.

2013-2014 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 3588: Would outlaw use of handheld cell phones while driving in Massachusetts. All drivers. Hands-free OK. “No further action taken.” (Joint Committee on Transportation )

H3005: Would prohibit use of handheld cell phones while driving. All drivers. Hands-free OK. (Atkins)

H3014: Proposes tougher penalties for distracted driving violations. Penalties would be $250 and a permit or license suspension of 90 days for a first offense; fine of $500 for a second offense; fine of $750 for subsequent offenses. Would give insurance companies access to distracted driving infraction records. Specifies drivers can be fined while paused in traffic. (Ayers)

H3123: Would bar use of mobile phones in school zones. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $200 and thereafter $300. (Poirier)

H3124: Would prohibit use of cell phones while driving in Massachusetts. (Provost)

H3135: Seeks to prohibit use of cell phones in school zones. Would apply to all drivers. (Provost)

H3169: Would prohibit use of handheld mobile telephones or mobile electronic device. Hands-free mobile telephone use OK. (Wagner)

Senate Bill 1639: Would punish drivers whose actions threaten “vulnerable users” of roadways such as pedestrians and bicyclists. Fine $250 with possible 30 days in prison. In civil cases, would make “intentionally distracted” drivers who harm vulnerable users liable for actual and punitive damages. (Brownsberger)

S1647: Would prohibit use of cell phones by drivers unless they are operated hands-free and/or afixed to the vehicle. Fines: $50 (first offense), then $100 and then $250. (Creem)

S1682: Would outlaw use of handheld cell phones while driving. Includes text messaging via Internet. Moving violation. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $250 and then $500. (Montigny)

2013 distracted driving notes:
At least nine pieces of distracted driving legislation were before the House and Senate in 2013. Five of the bills sought to ban use of handheld cell phones by all drivers. In 2012, the Transportation Committee pooled the assorted cell phone bills, but the measure didn’t succeed.

The joint Transportation Committee’s chairmen said they support a ban on use of handheld cell phones while driving. The panel held a hearing June 26 on the swarm of distracted driving bills up for consideration this year. “The committee has been clear in favor of this kind of limitation in the past, and we’ll see where we go,” said Transportation co-chairman Rep. William Straus.

Massachusetts State Police are out in force seeking drivers who violate the state’s distracted driving laws. The first crackdown using federal funding ran through June. State Police are fielding an additional 190 patrols in a dozen cities. Massachusetts received the federal grant for development of “high-visibility anti-texting enforcement programs.”

Police wrote 1,700 tickets statewide for texting and driving during 2012, the Department of Transportation reports. That’s up from 1,147 in 2011, which was the first full year under the Massachusetts text messaging & driving law.

The Legislature’s Transportation Committee chairmen said June 26 that they support a ban on handheld cell phones for all drivers. Several lawmakers made the argument at a hearing that outlawing the mobile phone use would make possible realistic enforcement of Massachusetts’ existing texting & driving law. “You eliminate the guessing by public-safety officials who have to decide are they texting or are they dialing,” said state Rep. Cory Atkins, D-Concord. Co-chairman Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, said during the hearing that the commitee supported cell phone legislation in the past and “we’ll see where we go” this year.

Under the federal funding for distracted driving enforcement, Massachusetts will experiment with various ways of identifying drivers in violation of the texting ban. These efforts will be documented for the benefit of other states, the NHTSA said last fall in announcing the $275,000 grant. Texting & driving sweeps will be conducted at least four times over a period of two years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

Techniques may include stationary and roving patrols, and the use of “spotters on overpasses on elevated roadways.” Law officers nationwide say that texting laws are difficult to enforce when a handheld cell phone ban is not also in force. Massachusetts allows cell phone use by adult drivers. Connecticut also received a grant.

Families of distracted driving victims helped launch the “End Distracted Driving” campaign with an appearance at the State House on Feb. 4. The Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers is participating in the program. Gov. Deval Patrick declared it “Distracted Driving Day” in Massachusetts.

2011-2012 distracted driving legislation:
H3938: Would bar all drivers from using a mobile telephone or other mobile electronic device without a hands-free accessory. Represents H1817, 2651, 3069 and 3085. (Mattapoisett/Transportation Committee)

H1817: Prohibits the operator of a vehicle from using a mobile telephone or other mobile electronic device without a hands-free accessory. Approved by the Joint Committee on Transportation in an 8-0 vote taken Jan. 26. Three panel members abstained. (Wagner)

H3069: Would ban use of handheld cell phones by all drivers in Massachusetts. (Atkins)

H935: Would prohibit use of wireless telephones while driving through school zones. Fines: $100 for the first violation and then $200 and then $300. (Poirier)

H3086: Would outlaw use of cell phones while operating a vehicle in school zones. (Provost)

SB 1732: Would prohibit drivers from using handheld cell phones. (Creem)

S1764: Would require drivers to use hands-free devices while making cell phone calls. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $250, then $500. Moving violation. (Montigny)

S1765: Would prohibit use of cell phones while driving through school zones. (Montigny)

S1810: Would bar holders of junior driver’s licenses from using cell phones. Fine up to $100 and possible one-year loss of license. Non-moving offense. (Tolman)

2012 distracted driving notes:
No distracted driving legislation advanced in the Legislature during 2012. Several bills seeking a handheld cell phone ban were pooled in the House by H3938, created by the Transportation Committee.

Gov. Deval Patrick appears open to a ban on use on handheld cell phones, but admitted he hadn’t given the issue much thought. Patrick signed the state’s text messaging law.

A Massachusetts teen appears to be on his way to prison after being convicted of vehicular homicide and texting while driving. Aaron Deveau, 18, caused the death of a New Hampshire man in a 2011 crash, the court found. A passenger suffered serious injuries as well. Prosecutors said Deveau had received dozens of text messages that day, including one that arrived just before the wreck. Deveau’s lawyer maintained that prosecutors were eager to link texting to the case, regardless of the evidence.

“I made a mistake,” Deveau told the court after the June 6 sentencing. “If I could take it back, I would take it back.” The teen actually received a 4 1/2 year prison term, but the judge suspended most of the time. Deveau also lost his license for 15 years. A New Bedford man received a similar sentence for a texting death in 2008.

Statewide, police have written more than 1,715 tickets for texting and driving since the practice was outlawed in fall 2010. Almost half of the citations came from state police, the state Department of Transportation said in late May 2012.

Rep. William Straus, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation, told the State House News Service that he expects the handheld cell phone measure H1817 to clear the House but run into trouble in the Senate. Straus, D-Mattapoisett, said new members of the Senate probably will determine the bill’s fate since previous votes there have been close.

Two of the three Transportation Committee members who abstained from voting on H1817 are senators.

“Without this bill (H1817), the texting ban is meaningless,” says Rep. Steve Howitt, R-Seekonk, of the Transportation Committee.

Rep. Betty Poirier, R- North Attleboro, points to one reason that cell phone bans are a tough sell: “All legislators use their cell phones; they travel a lot,” she said.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation approved a handheld cell phone bill Jan. 26. The vote was unanimous, but three members abstained from voting. The measure would require drivers to use hands-free devices while making phone calls.

The Joint Committee on Transportation’s Jan. 10 hearing on handheld cell phone proposals drew only one speaker: A father who lost a son in a crash linked to cell phone use while driving.

“If my son had been on a hands-free device that day, he would be here,” Jerry Cibley told lawmakers. He called Massachusetts’ 2010 text messaging law “a miserable failure,” the State House News Service reported.

Lobbyists did turn out at the cell phone law hearing, however. Rep. James Miceli, D-Tewksbury, charged that “year after year” they “come right in and kill the (cell phone ban) issue.”

2011 distracted driving notes:
Massachusetts’ new law prohibiting cell phone use by drivers under age 18 is mostly a bust, the Boston Herald reports.

Only a dozen junior drivers had their licenses suspended for cell phone use since the law went into effect Sept. 30, 2010, the Herald said in August 2011. Police wrote about 700 texting citations to adults over the same period.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation reports that as of late May, 951 distracted driving tickets were handed out since October 2010, when the state’s text messaging law went into effect. About 600 were for texting while behind the wheel; the rest went to drivers under the age of 18 who were using handheld electronic devices.

Rep. Denise Provost, Rep. Elizabeth Poirier and Sen. Mark Montigny have filed legislation in their houses seeking to prohibit all drivers from using cell phones while in school zones.

2010 legislation notes:
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law a ban on text messaging on July 2. The House and Senate’s compromise legislation was sent to the governor on June 25, after the Senate’s unanimous vote. The House vote two days earlier was 150-1.

Gov. Patrick said as he signed the distracted driving bill into law: “Texting is one of the riskiest distractions that endangers public safety and today we are joining other states by saying it will no longer be tolerated.” The signing audience included people who lost family members to distracted drivers.

A joint House-Senate panel on June 22 reached their compromise using the two driving safety bills approved in 2010. HB 4795 bans texting while driving, but does not prohibit the use of handheld cell phones for adults. (Read the new Massachusetts distracted driving law)

The new law prohibits all drivers from texting while behind the wheel and bans use of all cell phones by drivers who are 16 and 17 years old. The young drivers are barred from using a variety of devices (TVs, video, PCs) under the heading “mobile electronic devices.”

Fines for adults: $100 (first offense), then $250 and $500. Fines for drivers under 18: $100 plus 60-day license suspension and youth traffic school (first offense), then $250 with six-month suspension and then $500 with a one-year suspension. Tickets are not moving violations and do not affect insurance premiums.

The new bill also requires a public awareness campaign for distracted driving issues, to begin Jan. 1.

There were significant differences in the distracted driving plans. Complicating the situation was the legislators’ different approaches to age-based testing for the elderly. That, too, was resolved.

The compromise, apparently, was the House dropping its ban on handheld cell phone use for adult drivers and the Senate agreeing to watered-down restrictions on elderly drivers.

The full House had passed a bill crafted by the Joint Transportation Committee that would ban texting and the use of handheld cell phones while driving. The measure also sought to prohibit drivers under age 18 from using cell phones of any type. Fines for violators $100/$250/$500.

In the Senate, a measure banning text messaging for all drivers was approved on March 2. (It cleared the Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 25.) The bill called for primary enforcement after criticisms of its previous plan for secondary enforcement. An amendment that would have included handheld cell phones to the texting ban was defeated 18-16. The bill would prohibit drivers under age 18 from using cell phones of any type with stiffer penalties than the House version. Fines $100/$250/$500.

The House bill is a “redraft” of HB 3354, filed a year ago (Wagner). The Feb. 4, 2010, House vote was 146-9. Transportation Committee co-chairmen Rep. Joseph F. Wagner, D-Chicopee, and Sen. Steven A. Baddour, D-Methuen, unveiled the plan a week earlier, but it did not include the hands-free requirement for cell phone use. Wagner’s amendment to add a handheld cell phone ban to the House bill passed by a 91-66 count.

SB 2246: Legislation that would authorize the City of Boston’s ban on text messaging. (Petruccelli)

The Daily Hampshire Gazette editorialized: “While an important and overdue step to protect the public from distracted drivers, (the new texting law) falls short of what’s needed: A law that requires drivers to use hands-free mobile phone devices when driving. … For seven years the Legislature has debated the mobile phone issue. This was the year to make something happen.”

The Gazette also said of the ban on cell phones for the youngest drivers: “What makes it safer to talk and juggle a cell phone while driving at age 19 or 20 than at 17? Is there a notable improvement in judgment at 18? Written the way it is, the law makes cell phone use behind the wheel a rite of passage for 18 year olds a goal to aspire to. Is this really what the Legislature intends?”


House Speaker Robert DeLeo had vowed some kind of driver safety bill will pass during the 2010 session. “That’s not going to get lost in the end-of-the-year shuffle,” DeLeo told the AP.

The House’s Feb. 4 vote on the Transportation Committee bill included approval of an amendment that lowered its penalties on junior drivers. The measure now calls for suspensions of 7 days, then 30, then 90.

“This sends a message that texting while operating a motor vehicle in the Commonwealth will not be tolerated,” Rep. Joseph Wagner said after the Joint Committee on Transportation approved the composite bill to outlaw texting for all drivers as well as cell phone use by drivers under 18.

The Senate legislation calling for a text messaging ban was introduced Feb. 25. Its original restrictions on violations to secondary enforcement was due in part to concerns over racial profiling, the Senate president said. The bill as approved by the Senate on March 2 now calls for primary enforcement. Primary enforcement empowers police to pull over and cite drivers for that violation alone. With secondary enforcement, another violation is needed for a stop.

Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, pushed for upgrades to the Senate’s texting plan that would add handheld cell phones and primary enforcement. He lost on the cell phones but succeeded with the enforcement status. “It’s unconscionable that we’re still debating this,” he said. “It’s time to put a law that’s as strong as any law in the nation.”

Both distracted driving bills (House and Senate) include plans designed to cut down on accidents involving elderly drivers. That issue has dominated debate on the bills.

The Massachusetts House and Senate are in session through July.

New Bedford approved a citywide ban on text messaging while driving on April 22. Fines are $100 (first offense/$200/$300. “It took us three months,” said City Council sponsor Steve Martins. “Our state lawmakers have been working on a bill for years … and they still haven’t decided.”

New Bedford parents are up in arms over a video that shows a school bus driver chatting away on a cell phone while transporting students.

Medford’s City Council gave final approval to its ban on text messaging June 15. Fines $100-$300. The new law’s sponsor said he was tired of waiting for action from the capital: “The state legislature’s inaction on this issue has really bothered me. … They just fell asleep at the wheel,” said City Councilor Michael Marks.

Boston’s City Council voted unanimously in December for a ban on texting while behind the wheel. The city has petitioned the state Legislature for home-rule approval (see SB 2246, above). The Council had a public hearing on the text messaging issue Dec. 7. “They say you can’t legislate common sense, but I this case I think we need to do something about it,” said Councillor John Tobin, the legislation’s author. He indicated the intent was to pressure the state Legislature to pass one of the many bills pending before it regarding distracted driving. The Legislature would have to sign off on a Boston-area ban on text messaging as a “home rule” petition.

The Boston texting ban would receive “primary” enforcement, meaning police can pull over violators for that reason alone. Fine range between $100 and $300.

The Boston transit agency (trolley, bus and train) has disciplined 18 workers for violations of the cell phone ban, 10 of them fired. (A second offense means termination.) The MBTA policy went into effect on May 18, 2009, after a subway crash was blamed on a text-messaging driver.

Quincy has voted to ban texting within city limits. City council president Kevin Coughlin, author of the legislation, says he has been hit twice by text messaging teenagers. Fines for the “primary offense” would be $100 first offense then $200 and then $300. The Quincy texting ban was approved by the City Council on Feb. 15, 2010, and sent to the Legislature as a request for a “home rule” exemption.

Note: The Massachusetts Legislature web site does not provide reliable status updates on current bills. Information presented here may be incomplete.

2009-2010 legislation:
HB 4795: Compromise distracted driving bill created by House and Senate negotiators. Replaces all texting and cell phone bills related to driving.

HB 3259: Would ban use of handheld cell phones by all drivers and any cell phones by junior drivers. (Koutoujian)

HB 3160: Would outlaw text messaging by all Massachusetts drivers. (Atsalis)

HB 4029: Would prohibit handheld cell phone use and text messaging by drivers with junior licenses. (Murphy)

HB 4015: Junior operators of motor vehicles would be banned from using cell phones and text messaging devices. (Alicea)

HB 3369: Would create a campaign to spread awareness of the dangers of text messaging while driving. To be funded by voluntary contributions from telecommunications companies. (Welch)

Legislative, legal roundup:
Senate budget bill: A ban on texting while driving was approved by the full Senate on May 21, 2009, as part of the overall state budget bill. The provision was stripped out after the bill went to a conference committee with the House, on the grounds that it had nothing to do with the budget.

Sen. Steven A. Baddour, D-Methuen, introduced the amendment. It also would have prohibited public transit operators from holding a cell phone while driving.

Note: The Massachusetts Legislature web site does not provide reliable status updates on current bills. Information presented here may be incomplete.

A legislative hearing on June 11 surveyed more than a dozen 2009 bills that would ban text messaging and/or limit cell phone use while driving. The Transportation Committee heard from the mother of a teen driver who died just after receiving a text message.

“Texting while driving has become the new drunk driving,” said Rep. Peter Koutoujian.”You can tell someone is on their cellphone just by the way they’re driving.”

Sen. Steven Baddour’s text messaging amendment would bring a $75 fine and possible insurance penalties. He told fellow senators on May 21:

“The fact that we recently had a number of tragedies with young adults texting, we have a generation of drivers who think it’s OK to drive while texting. For people to suggest that holding a cell phone is the cause of accidents is not supported by the facts. At the end of the day, that’s where we need to do a better job, educating people.”

Almost 50 people were injured when a trolley operator in Boston crashed into the rear of another trolley while sending a text message to his girlfriend. The May 8 crash inspired an immediate city ban on drivers of trolleys, trains, and buses having cell phones in their possession while working.

A New Bedford man was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for killing a 13-year-old bicyclist while text messaging and driving. Craig P. Bigos will see his drivers license revoked for 10 years as well, according to the Nov. 12, 2008, sentence.

The New Bedford Eagle editorialized on May 15, 2009: “Text messaging has become part of the culture, which won’t change. It has also become a threat to others on roads and trains, and that has to change.”

Cell phone use was cited in 435 vehicle crashes around the state in 2007, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles reported. In 2008, the preliminary number was just shy of 400.

2007-2008 legislation:
HB 4477: Would require drivers to use hands-free devices while making cell phone calls. Would prohibit drivers under the age of 18 from using cell phones regardless of whether hands-free devices are engaged. Would prohibit drivers from sending text messages and e-mails while driving. Calls for a one-time $600 insurance surcharge for first offense. “No further action taken.”

HB 4477 was approved by the House on Jan. 23, 2008, and advanced to the Senate, where the cell phone bill (2048) was last reported in the ethics panel. Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, told The Republican that there was no interest in the cell-phone driving bill in her chamber, and that she had not given it much thought.

Rep. Joseph F. Wagner, D-Chicopee, the moving force behind the House bill, is up against the Senate chairman of the transportation committee, who wants the legislation to die without a floor vote.

“Every independent study that I’ve seen … says it’s not the holding of the cell phone that causes the problem,” Sen. Steven Baddour said. “It’s the distraction of not paying attention.”


  1. David Fournier says:

    A hands free law is a must at this time. Cell phone usage while driving has gotten way out of control. I myself have had numerous near misses because drivers were paying more attention to their phones then the road. PLEASE MAKE THE LAW HAPPEN. We need it desperately!

  2. Shame on this state for being so slow to implement a comprehensive cell phone and driving bill. It is scary when you look at drivers going through intersections with their heads down reading a message on their mobile devices. Drivers are playing Russian roulette each time the get into their vehicles with a cell phone. Just watch the mom’s and dad’s dropping kids off at school with the cell phones on their ears. In school zones of all places. Shame on them!

    Shame on our legislators! It’s unconscionable! New York has had plan in place for a number of years and it’s working. Fines are high and police are enforcing the laws!

    Wake up and get something done now before another life is lost to distracted drivers.

  3. Drinda Carey says:

    Cell phone usage, and texting is becoming an epidemic. Fines should be increased to a maximum level, first offense is loss of license for 60 days; second offense is loss for a year; tough love!!!! Also, cars need to have blockers so while in a car one can not USE a cell phone PERIOD.

  4. Al Cinamon says:

    It’s distressing to realize how little is known about driving distracted.

    First of all, to those who claim “freedom of choice” and cry about losing their “rights” you need to know that driving is not a right. It’s a privilege and once you accept a license you are required to obey the rules and regulations of the “club.” If you don’t want to be a member of the “club” and don’t want to be subjected to those rules then give up your license. It’s that simple.

    Secondly, to those of you who think it’s okay to talk on a hands-free device. It’s not! The conversation is the distraction, not holding the phone. So the laws that ban holding a phone are phony laws designed to fool the public (and it’s doing a pretty good job). If states really cared about safety, they would ban all devices as was recommended by the head of the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board).

    • Texting, web surfing and the like should not have to be illegal. If parents did their jobs the correct way and disciplined their children with appropriate love for others, there would be little need for any laws. The majority of you people are miserable failures. As parents and citizens of any country. You can count on more laws. But, you can count on more disobedience and disorder. And that is fact. Have fun every one. Have fun with your police states. Ha ha ha ha.

  5. Robyn Willett says:

    There are numerous habits motorists engage in ie, smoking, eating, putting on makeupand on & on. The risks are huge for any distraction. Educate, don’t legislate. Taxes and fines are what’s killing this country.

  6. Just try standing by the 30 min limit car parking area, across from the main entrance of the building at North Shore Community College in Danvers, MA and you will see! Practically every other driver/STUDENT, is texting or on the phone! And driving faster than they should. Well, there is not posted speed limit on this campus.

    Quiz Question : What is the campus police not doing?

  7. Claire Roberts says:

    MA needs a bill that bans cell phone use while driving. Hands-free use should be OK but reviewed periodically. I am tired of drivers driving “drunk” because they are holding the wheel with one hand and not focusing on their driving. I can ALWAYS tell when I am behind someone on a cell phone. It’s unacceptable. Why do we put up with this in MA. We have seen a surge of accidents over the past 10 years — doesn’t anyone want to stop this? Again, let’s try hands-free phone devices for drivers and start there!

  8. Ashely Farlow says:

    By letting them drive while texting you might as well say, ” Hey guys, why dont we just cause a bunch of deaths by killing them? It’s in the law!”

    Im sorry if you do it and I know that I used to until I saw a video of a huge backup when I was 20, but holy crap people, learn that texting is a huge thing! My son says it wouldn’t happen to me, Ill be careful. And guess what? I dont care, he hasn’t had his cell phone for 3 weeks because I caught him texting while driving. But he doesn’t realize that what he did was bad. He now realizes it means that he could have died.

  9. Do not pass the law to ban cell phones in MA

    • I disagree. The law to ban cell phone use while driving here in the Bay State, even the no-hands installments (Merely talking on one’s cell phone, in any case, is a dangerous distraction while driving.), most definitely SHOULD be passed, because, as several other posters on here succinctly put it, Texting/cell phone use while driving is just as bad as driving drunk.

  10. Susannah Green says:

    I agree that it is pathetic that MA drivers are not banned from using handheld phones while driving, regardless of age. Everyone should have to use a headset/hands free option. This morning I had just gotten into my car and was about to leave my pediatrican’s parking lot (with my baby in the car) when a woman pulled into the parking spot next to me and hit my car. Needless to say, she was talking on her cell phone while driving (and also had a baby in the car).

    And to boot she NEVER even got off the phone or apologized even after I got out of my car to look at the damage or when I told her that she shouldn’t be driving and talking.

    Time to change the law. People should be focused on driving with both hands on the wheel.

  11. Laurie Ingram says:

    It is PATHETIC that Massachusetts has not banned cell phone use for drivers. If a person fails a driver’s test because they have not put both hands on the steering wheel, then why is is legal to use a cellphone by a driver where they will use one hand to steer the car and the other to hold a phone? That does NOT make sense.

  12. gus aliberti says:

    GUS sat 4/10/2010


  13. Recently moved to the Boston area from NY and very surprised that there is no law against cellphone usage. I bought a new car and automatically put in a hands free cellphone device. I am shocked at how many people drive and speak on the phone. I can tell right away by the way they are driving and always right when I pull up next to them.

    I do not want to be a statistic and I don’t think anyone should be. We might as well let people drive drunk as far as I am concerned.

  14. George Viglirolo says:

    Here are five brief excerpts (from among many other well-documented studies) that make it clear why there should be a ban on all cell phone use (hand-held or hands-free devices) while operating a motor vehicle. Thanks for reading.

    Study 1 [3/13/2002]

    Study participants who engaged in cell phone conversations missed twice as many simulated traffic signals as when they were not talking on the cell phone. They also took longer to react to those signals that they did detect. These deficits were equivalent for both hand-held and hands-free cell phone users.

    Cellular phone use disrupts performance by diverting attention to an engaging cognitive context other than the one immediately associated with driving.

    Legislative initiatives that restrict hand-held devices but permit hands-free devices are not likely to reduce interference from the phone conversation, because the interference is due to central attentional processes.

    Study 2 [7/23/2003]

    A study published in 1997 in the New England Journal of Medicine, based on accident data in Toronto, found that the risk of driving and using a cell phone was similar to that when driving drunk. The risk of a collision was three to six times higher than when a driver was sober and not using a cell phone.

    In a new study, researchers from the University of Utah conclude that talking on a cell phone behind the wheel is more dangerous than driving drunk. And it makes no difference whether the telephone is hand-held or used hands-free.

    Study 3 [12/9/2005]

    The study [of multi-tasking] can be applied to drivers who talk on cell phones. On the surface, it appears that drivers are trying to accomplish just two tasks – driving and conversing. But each task is complicated and multi-faceted, greatly increasing the “cost” of switching. The result: inattention and slow reaction times.

    “A lot of people think talking on the cell phone while driving is natural, but each time someone asks a question or changes the subject, it’s like taking on a new task. It requires a certain amount of thought and preparation. It’s actually quite different than listening to the radio, where you don’t need to respond.”

    “And it’s also different from talking to a passenger in the vehicle. In most cases, a passenger can observe when there is a dangerous traffic situation and keep quiet. But someone calling you on a cell phone won’t have a clue.”

    Study 4 [6/30/2006],2933,201586,00.html

    Driving while talking on a cell phone is as bad as, or maybe worse, than driving drunk.

    The study is detailed in the summer 2006 issue of Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. It is the first peer-reviewed study on this topic to include drinking.

    “Just like you put yourself and other people at risk when you drive drunk, you put yourself and others at risk when you use a cell phone and drive. The level of impairment is very similar.”

    Study 5 [1/2008]

    A University of Utah study found that conversation — and not the use of hands-free phone devices — is the main distraction while driving and talking on cell phones.

    New research showed that the cars of drivers talking on cell phones tended to move slower and, thus, caused traffic to show down.

    The costs of delay and traffic jams can be deceptively high. “If we compile the millions of drivers distracted by cell phones and their small delays, and convert them to dollars, the costs are likely to be dramatic. Cell phones cost us dearly.”

  15. Jake Patterson says:

    So you are saying that it was the legislatures fault for not making it illegal to use a cell phone while driving? That is borderline ludicrous. It is traumatic what happened to your sister, and nobody should have to deal with that situation either personally or with a family member. But, that being said, bottom line is that it was clearly her fault, and not the legislatures for not making it illegal. Is there a law that says, “Don’t stick your tongue in a electric socket, and if somebody is dumb enough to do it, is ti the legislatures fault for not making a law, ordinance, or statute to prevent such activity? What ever happened to freedom of choice and all that rhetoric that is quickly being thrown out the window at every opportunity. Is it not bad enough that you are tracked daily by your credit accounts and use of your social security number, and the fact that you already have minimal, and I say that laughingly, rights as a civilian when a police officer pull you over, that you want to give them more reasons to do it? Think about the consequences of what you ask before you do. The right to privacy outweighs anything to be gained from a ban of cell phone use in a vehicle. Its already bad enough that I am forced against my will, with no threat to anyone else, to wear a seatbelt, and if I don’t, greedy insurance companies can charge me higher premiums.

  16. My sister was in a car accident almost three years ago. She was nineteen at the time. She is a traumatic brain injury survivor but still is unable to walk, talk or eat. She is confined to a wheelchair and a long-term care facility, until we are equipped to bring her home. Her accident was caused by the distraction of her cell phone. Her injury however was as severe as it was because she was not wearing her seatbelt. Both of these issues need to be addressed by legislation. (Currently Massachusetts is working on a primary seat belt law). I WILL NOT use my cell phone if I am driving because of the devastating effect that its distraction has had on my sisters’ life and the lives of everyone who knows and loves her.

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