SOMERSET — Chief George McNeil and the Somerset 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.
“The goal of this new law is to reduce distracted driving as much as possible,” said Chief McNeil. “It requires drivers to put down their phones and actively pay attention to their surroundings. We hope to see this law have a positive impact by reducing the number of traffic incidents that are caused by distracted driving.”
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.
This section will not apply to public safety personnel or emergency first responders using a mobile electronic device while operating an emergency services vehicle and engaged in the performance of their duties.