Drivers in Massachusetts will now face warnings — and eventually fines — if caught using their hand-held cellphones behind the wheel.
Texting while driving had already been outlawed, but a new law prohibiting drivers from writing, reading or viewing text messages, even when stopped at a stoplight, went into effect Sunday.
Drivers are also prohibited from talking or dialing on their phone, unless they use the hands-free mode.
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Cellphone use is allowed, however, for GPS or to report an emergency.
Drivers under age 18 are not allowed to use phones at all, according to the law.
On the first day the new law was in effect, Wakefield Police Detective Jack Ryan was patrolling the streets, searching for drivers illegally using their phones behind the wheel.
NBC10 Boston went along for the ride.
“You see the people that are trying to hide it, even before when it was just the no texting,” Detective Ryan told NBC10 Boston.
Within minutes of the ride along, Detective Ryan spotted a man talking on his phone as he drove through a busy intersection. He pulled the driver over to tell him about the new hands-free driving law.
“It was just basically informing him that the law did change today, so there’s no cell phone at all,” Detective Ryan said.
Over the next hour or so, Detective Ryan stopped two other drivers, telling them, "You can’t have the phone at all.”
One man who was pulled over told NBC10 Boston that he knew all about the new law but has trouble putting down his phone.
“I’m bad with that. I’ll fully admit that,” Michael Ercolini said. “I got pulled over because I pulled it out of my pocket, put it down because I was sitting on it.”
For now, police are not writing tickets, though.
As part of a grace period for enacting the law, police officers will only issue verbal warnings for violators until April 1.
After that, a first offense will mean a $100 fine, the second a $250 fine, and subsequent offenses a $500 penalty.
The law signed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in November brings Massachusetts in line with every other New England state.