Cell Phone Use While Driving Laws

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 What Is the Law on Driving While Using a Cell Phone?

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:

  • Alabama;
  • Alaska;
  • Colorado;
  • Florida;
  • Iowa;
  • Kansas;
  • Kentucky;
  • Michigan;
  • Mississippi;
  • Missouri;
  • Montana;
  • Nebraska;
  • New Mexico;
  • North Carolina;
  • North Dakota;
  • Ohio;
  • Pennsylvania;
  • South Carolina;
  • South Dakota;
  • Utah;
  • Wisconsin;
  • Wyoming.

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.

What Happens if a Driver Violates the Ban?

In states that enforce cell phone bans, violations can result in various penalties. Though state laws may vary, there are typically two levels of offenses associated with violating a ban on using a cell phone while driving:

  • Primary offense: A driver has violated the ban without committing any other traffic violations, such as speeding or running a red light;
  • Secondary offense: A driver has violated the ban while also committing another traffic offense.

Both levels of offense will result in at least a fine; in some rare cases, more serious consequences can result. These might include a loss of driving privileges, probation, or other penalties.

Fines for a first offense can range from a low of $45 to a high of $175. Usually, second or subsequent offenses result in payment of a higher fine. New Jersey appears to be one of the very few states that takes cell phone use while driving seriously. It imposes a fine that can be as high as $600 for a first offense and suspension of a person’s driver’s license for 90 days.

In addition, a ticket for texting may result in an increase in a person’s car insurance premiums. Reportedly, an increase of 24% is average. However, the increase might be as little as 4% or as high as 30% depending on the laws of a person’s state, their driving record, and other factors.

What if a Driver Causes a Car Accident While Using a Cell Phone?

When a car accident occurs, the driver who is more careless is determined to be at fault. If one driver was using their cell phone when the accident occurred, it is very likely that this driver would be at fault for causing the accident. This driver would then be liable for any damages caused to the other drivers, their passengers, and pedestrians who may have been involved in the accident.

If the driver was on the job during the car crash, their employer may be held liable in some circumstances. However, parents are generally not currently held liable for their teen causing an accident while using a cell phone.

In addition to having to reimburse the other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians for their losses from an accident, a driver who is liable may find that their car insurance becomes more expensive because they have had an accident.

Are There Defenses to a Violation of the Ban?

If a driver is accused of violating the ban on the use of a cell phone while driving, there are some defenses that can apply to their case, depending on the circumstances:

  • Emergency: A driver can claim that an emergency occurred, causing them to use their cell phone while driving;
  • Identification Problem: The driver was not texting or using a cell phone at the time of the crash, despite what another person claims to have seen;
  • Lack of Probable Cause: The police did not have probable cause to believe the driver was on the phone at the time of the accident, so they did not have the necessary justification for pulling the driver over.

Should I Need the Help of a Lawyer for a Charge of Using a Cell Phone While Driving?

Driving while texting or using a cell phone is a serious offense that often comes with a hefty fine. If you believe that you were wrongly charged and you were not using your phone while driving, then talk to a traffic violation attorney about your legal rights and how you can fight your charges. LegalMatch.com can quickly connect you to a lawyer who can protect your rights.

If your cell phone use resulted in an accident that involved another car and driver, then you want to contact a personal injury lawyer. They will inform you on how you can limit the damages you may have to pay to compensate anyone who was injured or whose property was damaged.

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