Massachusetts Just Got Closer to a Ban on Cell Phone Usage in Cars

It's still a ways off, but it could happen this year.

On Thursday, the State Senate voted to approve a statewide ban on the use of cell phones and other hand-held devices while operating a motor vehicle. The vote came through just before Governor Charlie Baker’s State of the Commonwealth speech.

The bill is the natural progression of the state’s texting-while-driving ban that has faced criticism for being difficult for police to enforce. Violators of the new rules would face a level of fines: $100 for the first time, $250 for the second, and $500 for the third offense. Additional violations would include insurance surcharges. The bill now goes to the House, where, according to the State House News Service, a similar bill has already been approved. The new bill would give law enforcement the ability to pull over drivers they spot using their cell phones while behind the wheel.

The proposed law exempts emergency response workers like police and firefighters. Hand-held cellphone use bans have received the support of insurance companies, as well as the backing of the American Automobile Association.

If the bill becomes law, Massachusetts will join California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Illinois, West Virginia, New York, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut, Maryland, and Delaware as the states in the union with bans on hand-held cell phone use while driving.

Gov. Baker has expressed openness to the new proposal.