Key takeaways

  • Set mobile electronic devices to “Do Not Disturb” mode, which prevents texts, calls and notifications from coming through while the user is in a vehicle.
  • Set an example for others. Peers, children and colleagues learn from one another, so we need to make distracted driving an unacceptable behavior.
  • Talk with your teenage driver about the dangers of driving while distracted – including the risks of using cell phones, eating and manipulating the radio while behind the wheel. Remind teens that driving requires all your attention.

The new Massachusetts distracted driving prevention law went into effect Feb. 23. Driver distraction is responsible for more than 58% of teen automobile crashes. On National Injury Prevention Day, the MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital Trauma Injury Prevention and Outreach Program call on all drivers to eliminate distractions when driving. Michael Flaherty, DO, shares these tips to keep drivers, their families and the community safe.

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving means your attention or focus is taken away from the task of driving and comprises three core types:

  • Visual: When you take your eyes off the road
  • Manual: When you take your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive: When your mind is not primarily focused on driving

Distracted driving is dangerous and can lead to injury and death. More than 1,000 people are injured daily in crashes involving a distracted driver. While any distraction can endanger the driver and others, texting while driving is especially dangerous as it combines all three types of distraction. Further, it takes the brain approximately
30 seconds to refocus on driving after looking at a mobile phone.

What is the new hands-free law?

The Massachusetts hands-free law prohibits all drivers from all use of their phones, for any reason, including making calls, reading or sending text messages, using social media or typing in directions – even when at a stop light or in traffic. Phones may be used in hands-free mode through Bluetooth or when the phone is mounted to the windshield or dashboard at eye level.

What if I need to use the navigation on my phone, answer the phone or make a call?

Drivers can utilize their mobile device’s voice commands for directions and calls – such as Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant – which must be enabled to place calls or get directions.

Cars without built-in GPS, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto must be equipped with a phone mount on the dash or windshield for GPS navigation. Drivers must type in their destination and start the directions before driving. If you need to answer or make a phone call, the safest thing to do is pull over to the side of the road or park your car in a safe location.

What should parents do?

Drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes. Parents need to foster open conversations about the importance of the law and how it works to ensure their own safety and the safety of others. Since 2010 it has been illegal in Massachusetts for any junior operator – drivers under age 18 – to talk on the phone in any way while driving, including hands-free.

Encourage teenage drivers to speak up if they see their peers or others driving distracted just as they would if someone were driving while drunk. Additionally, parents must set good examples by not using their phones while driving.