The answer to the question of whether an individual can use a cell phone while they are driving depends on the state in which they reside. There are no federal bans against using a cell phone while driving.
There are currently 13 states which ban hand-held cell phone usage. There are no states that ban all cell phone use for all drivers.
However, there are 38 states which ban cell phone use by new drivers. In addition, there are 20 states that ban cell phone use by school bus drivers.
It is more common for a state to ban text messaging while driving. There are currently several states and territories that ban text messaging for all drivers, regardless of their skill level or age, including:
- 47 states;
- Washington, D.C.;
- Puerto Rico; and
In the 3 states which allow text messaging while driving, there are 2 states which prohibit text messaging by novice drivers.
What Do Individual States Say with Regard to Hand-Held Cell Phone Use?
As noted above, there are 13 states which band hand-held cell phone use altogether, including:
- New Jersey;
- New York;
- Washington; and
- West Virginia.
The State of Arkansas does not ban all hand-held cell phone usage but it does ban new drivers from using cell phones. The State of Tennessee only places a ban on drivers in marked school zones.
Texas has a ban on using hand-held phones in school crossing zones. For more related information, see the following LegalMatch articles:
What is Texting While Driving?
There are nearly 330,000 injuries which occur every year due to accidents that are caused by texting while driving. Statistics show that 1 out of every 4 automobile accidents in the United States is caused by texting while driving.
Texting while driving includes certain activities related to text messages which are conducted via a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle, including:
- Writing; or
Texting while driving is classified as a moving traffic violation and may also be categorized as a criminal misdemeanor in certain jurisdictions. Studies have demonstrated that texting while driving increases an individual’s risk of an automobile crash anywhere from 2.8 to 23.2 times than normal.
The laws governing texting while driving are aimed more at deterrence, or prevention, rather than for the recovery of losses.
What Are the Laws on Texting While Driving?
Similar to the laws governing cell phone use, texting while driving laws vary by state. There are currently 44 states which ban text messaging for all drivers.
There are also several territories that ban text messaging for all drivers, including:
- Washington, D.C.;
- Puerto Rico;
- Guam; and
- The United States Virgin Islands.
There are 4 states which prohibit text messaging by teenage drivers and new drivers. There are 3 states that ban school bus drivers from text messaging while driving.
There are 2 states that do not have any restrictions on texting while driving, Arizona and Montana. There are some states that have more lenient texting laws, including:
- Mississippi: the ban is only against individuals with either a learner’s permit or an intermediate license;
- Missouri: the ban is only against drivers 21 years or younger;
- Oklahoma: the ban is against individuals:
- with a learner’s permit;
- with an intermediate license
- who are school bus drivers; and
- who are public transit drivers; and
- Texas: the ban is against:
- A bus driver when they are driving passengers who are 17 years of age and younger;
- intermediate license holders for the first 12 months; and
- drivers in school crossing zones.
What Are the Penalties for Texting While Driving?
As noted above, the laws which govern texting while driving vary by state. The punishments for texting and driving, however, typically include a combination of the following:
- Monetary fines: Fines may range from as low as $20 up to $500 depending on the state;
- Criminal charges: In some states, texting while driving can result in criminal misdemeanor charges, Class B or C; and
- Jail or prison time: If the conduct results in bodily injury to another driver, jail or prison time may be imposed.
The penalties will also vary depending upon where an individual resides. In Alaska, for example, the penalty for texting while driving may include a fine of up to $10,000 and 1 year in prison, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.
Alaska has some of the harshest penalties for texting while driving. Virginia, on the other hand, imposes only a $20 fine and an offender will not face any prison time.
In addition, whether the offense of texting while driving is classified as a misdemeanor or a felony will depend upon where the offense occurs, as there are different standards in different states. In many states which ban texting while driving, the offense is classified as a misdemeanor.
In some states, however, such as Alaska, texting while driving may be classified as a felony depending upon whether the crime resulted in:
- Physical injury;
- Serious injury; or
- The death of another individual.
The severity of the punishment an individual may receive increases with each repeat offense. For example, after an individual’s second offense, a court may choose to impose a higher fine or a longer jail sentence.
In addition to these legal consequences, there are other consequences an individual may face for texting while driving, including:
- Points on one’s driving record;
- Suspension or revocation of driving privileges;
- Mandatory road safety classes; and
- Impoundment of the vehicle, especially if great bodily injury resulted from the accident.
In some jurisdictions, school bus drivers and commercial drivers are held to stricter standards. A violation may result in fines of over $2,000 for bus drivers and truck drivers.
What is the Penalty for Using a Hand-Held Phone While Driving?
In states where a hand-held phone is banned outright, the penalties will vary. The criminal fine imposed may be as low as $20 or as high as $250 if an individual is a first-time offender.
The fines imposed may increase significantly for repeat offenders. There are some states which may also assess points on an individual’s driving record, where other states may issue fines and charge the driver with a criminal offense.
In Utah, for example, a driver may face a fine of up to $10,000 if they cause bodily injury due to the use of their cell phone. In addition, the offense will be classified as a Class B misdemeanor if the individual has a prior conviction within the last 3 years.
Should I Contact a Lawyer?
The laws governing mobile phones are ever evolving, just as the technology is ever evolving. If you are involved in an accident resulting from cell phone usage or are cited by law enforcement for improper use of a cell phone while driving, it is important to consult with a traffic violation attorney who is familiar with the current laws of your state.
Your attorney can represent you if you are required to appear in a court of law as well as help ensure your rights are protected throughout the process. In some cases, your attorney may be able to negotiate your charge down to a lesser charge or negotiate a lesser penalty for the offense.