In our current lives, we have become more and more dependent on our smartphones and mobile electronic devices. Our phones, especially, have become so ingrained in our everyday lives that it may become difficult to unplug and focus on other tasks—such as driving.
We may be tempted to respond to texts and emails while we travel from Point A to Point B, especially since it has become second nature to many of us to respond promptly. Unfortunately, for all the benefits that we enjoy from technology, distracted driving is something can be a very real danger, and many states have taken action to discourage cell phone use while driving.
Texting and driving is just one of a variety of behaviors that fall under the umbrella of “distracted driving,” which can also include actions such as reading emails, applying makeup, using Snapchat or Facebook, or even eating while driving. If you are engaging in behavior that draws your attention away from the road, even if you think you are in control, then you may be driving distracted.
While distracted driving by itself may not be illegal (depending on the state you live in), it can lead to other driving behavior that is illegal—like reckless driving, running stop lights, and other driving violations. Not only can this get you into trouble with the law, but it can also put you and other people in danger. When in doubt, it is better to put the phone down and wait until you get to your destination to read and send texts.
Today, almost every state has laws strictly prohibiting texting while driving, and those who don’t often consider it a distracted driving offense. States that once allowed texting while driving have since cracked down on distracted driving.
Many states also prohibit talking on the phone while driving unless you are using a hands-free device. If you are a commercial driver, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) prohibits all commercial drivers from using hand-held mobile devices.
Many states have specific rules regarding cell phone use for beginning drivers (like those with learner’s permits or probationary licenses) or young drivers (under the age of 18). Usually, these laws prohibit these drivers from using any cell phone or electronic device while driving, even if they have hands-free technology.
Some states also have specific rules banning school bus drivers from using cell phones while driving with passengers.
While most states have laws about cell phone use while driving, many states also have exceptions that allow you to use your cell phone to call emergency services. However, these exceptions do not extend to text messages.
If you are not certain which rules apply in your state, you may want to consult an attorney for clarification.
States are not the only entities that have laws regarding texting and driving. Some cities and towns may also have local ordinances that touch on cell phone use while driving. While many times these laws and ordinances may work hand in hand, in other cases the local ordinances are the main rules regarding texting and driving.
For example, Montana is one of the few states that does not have a statewide law regarding texting while driving—but many municipalities across the state have bans on hand-held cell phone use while driving.
The consequences for texting while driving vary from state to state, and may depend upon the severity of the offense or whether you have prior offenses. Generally, punishments for texting while driving can include the following:
- Monetary fines (which can range from as low as $20 to thousands of dollars depending on what state you’re in);
- Criminal charges (usually misdemeanor charges); and/or
- Jail time (which is more likely if an accident occurs as a result of texting while driving, or if the offense results in injury to another driver)
Often the severity of the punishments increases if you have more than one offense on your record. You may be issued a higher fine, or a longer jail sentence for a second offense. Penalties may also increase if another driver or passenger was seriously injured or if drunk driving was involved.
In addition to these penalties, you may also experience some consequences related to your driver’s license if you are found to be texting while driving. Some of these penalties may include:
- Points on your driving record;
- Suspension or revocation of your driver’s license; and/or
- Mandatory road safety or driver’s safety classes.
Above all, one of the ultimate consequences of texting and driving can be injury and/or death to yourself, a passenger, or an innocent third-party. It should not be commonplace to hear that a pedestrian, like a child, or a bicyclist were hit and killed due to a person who was texting while driving. It may seem like it is possible to do both, but it is always best to be cautious when it comes to the safety of yourself and others.
Texting while driving may not feel like a big deal, but it is a small act that can result in some big consequences. It is in your best interests to contact a criminal defense lawyer who can advise you on how to proceed if you’ve been charged with a criminal offense of texting while driving.
An attorney can help you navigate the court system to get the best possible outcome in your case. If this is not the first time you’ve been charged with texting while driving, it is especially important to talk to a lawyer, since the consequences can be more severe than for a first-time offense.