Distracted driving law goes into effect

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New regulations on using phones while driving went into effect Sunday and Island departments started issuing warnings.

The distracted driving law has kicked in, and Island police have already started issuing warnings. 

On Sunday, when the law went into effect, Edgartown Police issued two warnings to drivers, and Tisbury Police wrote nine warnings. Oak Bluffs, West Tisbury, and Aquinnah did not report any traffic stops or warnings issued. Chilmark Police could not be immediately reached, but Trooper Dustin Shaw told The Times the Island’s State Police reported no incidents involving distracted drivers.

The law was signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in November, and makes it illegal to hold or view a mobile electronic device while operating a motor vehicle.

Using a mobile device in an emergency while operating a vehicle, or in GPS or hands-free mode, is still permitted under the law.

State Police will also be on the lookout for distracted drivers. Some cruisers will carry two troopers, allowing one to serve as a “spotter” for motorists who do not comply with the new restrictions on virtually all handheld cellphone use behind the wheel, according to the State House News Service.

While the law officially took effect on Sunday, penalties will not kick in for another few weeks. Police will only issue warnings to drivers through March 31, as they work to increase awareness about the new limits, though the existing ban on typing or reading messages while driving can still draw full punishments, according to the news service.

Beginning on April 1, violating the law will result in a $100 fine for a first offense, $250 for a second offense, and $500 for a third offense. After the first offense, if a driver is caught again, he will be required to complete a program selected by the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) that encourages “a change in driver behavior and attitude about distracted driving,” according to the law.