Distracted driving is doing any action that takes a driver’s attention away from their driving. It includes talking or texting on a cell phone, eating and drinking, even talking to passengers in the vehicle, and fiddling with a CD player or navigation system. All of these activities take a driver’s attention away from the task of driving safely so as to avoid the risk of accidents.
Driving while texting is one of the riskiest distractions. The act of reading or composing a text message takes a person’s eyes off the road for 5 seconds. If a person is driving 55 mph, they can cover a distance that is as long as a football field with their eyes closed. But most people have seen others who text while driving, and their attention is taken away from their driving for longer than 5 seconds.
A person is not driving safely unless they give their full attention to driving. This is true even when a person is stopped at a stop light. Any non-driving activity in which a person engages is a distraction and increases the person’s risk of crashing.
There is no federal law prohibiting cell phone use while driving. However, many states have banned the use of handheld devices and cell phones while driving. These types of bans may vary from state to state. For instance, some states prohibit all drivers from using any type of handheld cell phone device for any purpose, e.g., texting and calling, while driving.
Also, no state appears to have general distracted driving laws that apply to engaging in activities other than cell phone use while driving.
In fact, eighteen of the states in the U.S. ban virtually all handheld cell phone use by people who are driving. Three states and Washington, D.C., ban both calling and texting by people who are driving. Twenty-seven states ban texting on a handheld cell phone while a person is driving. Two states have no general cell phone ban that applies to all drivers.
In 41 of these states, texting and driving is a primary offense. This means that an officer can cite a driver for texting and driving even if they have not broken any other rules of the road.
Other states ban the use of any type of cell phone, whether it is hand-held or the driver is using a headset device. In other jurisdictions, the use of cell phones for texting while driving may be prohibited as well.
Also, some states place special restrictions on certain types of drivers. For example, some states ban the use of handheld cell phone devices for bus drivers, drivers under the age of 18 years old, and other specific types of drivers.
There are 22 states in which a person can legally use their cell phone to make a phone call while driving. The states are as follows:
- New Mexico;
- North Carolina;
- North Dakota;
- South Carolina;
- South Dakota;
However, some of these states may ban the use of cell phones for texting while driving. Kansas bans all cell phone use only by drivers who have learner’s or intermediate licenses. For these drivers, the offense is a primary violation. Otherwise, there are no limitations on cell phone use while driving in Kansas.
Pennsylvania bans cell phone use for texting while driving. The punishment is a $50 fine, but the driver does not accumulate any points as a penalty, and the offense is not recorded on the driver record for non-commercial drivers. However, it is recorded on commercial drivers’ records as a non-sanction violation. The ban does not apply to the use of a GPS system or any device that is physically integrated into a vehicle.
So, the laws regarding cell phone use vary widely from state to state. A person needs to inform themselves of the law in their state and other states to which they may travel.