Chief Timothy Hanlon and the Whitman Police Department would like to remind residents of the upcoming hands-free law for drivers.
On Feb. 23, An Act Requiring the Hands-Free Use of Mobile Telephones While Driving will go into effect prohibiting drivers from using cellphones and other hand-held devices while operating a vehicle. There will be a grace period through March 31 in which drivers will get a warning for their first violation rather than a fine.
The law states that no motor vehicle operator may use electronic devices while driving unless the technology is being used hands-free. Operators found to be texting, dialing phone numbers or using a phone with their hands in any capacity while driving will be fined.
Operators are permitted to use hands-free technology including Bluetooth, "single tap or swipe" to activate or deactivate hands-free mode, navigation technology mounted to the car’s dash and phone use in emergency situations. Drivers may use their phones if they are stationary and not in an active traffic lane.
The penalty for drivers who are found guilty of violating the hands-free law is a $100 fine for a first offense, a $250 fine for a second offense and a $500 fine for
a third or subsequent offense. Operators who commit a second or subsequent offense are also required to complete an educational program focused on distracted driving prevention. A third or subsequent violation will count as a surchargeable incident which can affect the driver’s insurance rates.
"We are hopeful that this new law will help to decrease distracted driving in our area," said Chief Hanlon. "A lack of awareness while driving leads to many avoidable car crashes each year. Removing the distraction that a cellphone causes is one step toward solving the issue of distracted driving on our roads."
The act also includes a requirement that law enforcement agencies report data on violations. The data collected by law enforcement will be available to the public.
The law does not apply to first responders who are on duty and driving emergency service vehicles.