The short answer is, it depends on where you reside. There is no federal ban against using your cell phone while driving. Currently, 13 states ban hand-held cell phone use. No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers; notwithstanding, 38 states ban cell phone use by new drivers. Further, 20 states ban cell phone use by school bus drivers.
Text messaging while driving is more commonly banned. Currently, 47 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam ban text messaging for all drivers, regardless of age or skill level. Of the 3 states that still allow text messaging while driving, 2 prohibit text messaging from novice drivers.
What Do Individual States Say with Regard to Hand-Held Cell Phone Use?
As stated above, thirteen states ban hand-held cell phone use altogether. They are:
- New Jersey
- New York
- West Virginia
Arkansas does not ban all hand-held cell phone usage, but does ban new drivers. Tennessee only bans drivers in marked school zones, and Texas bans drivers from using hand-held phones in school crossing zones.
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Which States Do Not Ban Text Messaging While Driving?
Nearly 330,000 injuries occur every year from accidents that are caused from texting while driving. Statistics show that one out of every four car accidents in the United States are caused by texting while driving. Accordingly, forty-seven states ban texting while driving. The following states do NOT ban texting while driving:
- Arizona (only bans cell phone use by young drivers)
- Missouri (only bans drivers from texting while driving if they are 21 years or younger)
What is the Penalty for Texting While Driving?
The penalties for using your cell phone while driving varies depending on where you reside. For example, in Alaska, the penalty for texting while driving can be up to a $10,000 fine and one year in prison depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. It is one of the states with the harshest penalties. On the other end of the spectrum, Virginia only imposes a $20 fine with no prison time.
Further, whether the crime of texting while driving is a misdemeanor or felony again depends on where the offense occurs, as different states have different standards. Notwithstanding, in the majority of states that ban texting while driving, the offense is considered a misdemeanor.
However, in some states (such as Alaska, which imposes the most severe penalties for texting while driving), it can be considered a felony depending on if the crime resulted in physical injury, serious injury, or even death of another person.
What is the Penalty for Using a Hand-Held Phone While Driving?
In the states where handheld phones are banned outright, the penalties differ. The fine can be as low as $20 or as high as $250 if you’re a first-time offender. Fines can be much higher for repeat offenders. Some states may assess points on your driving record, whereas others issue fines and charge the driver with a crime.
For instance, Utah fines drivers up to $10,000 if you cause bodily injury due to the use of your cell phone, and consider the offense a Class B misdemeanor if you have a prior conviction within the last three years.
Should I Contact a Lawyer?
The laws concerning mobile phones are evolving. If you have been involved with any sort of accident involving cell phone use, or cited by the police for improper use of a cell phone while driving, it is very important to talk to a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with the current laws of your state immediately to protect your rights and ensure you receive the remedy you deserve.