Smartphone Use While Driving Laws

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 What are Smartphones?

A smartphone is a cellular phone which combines the functions of a mobile phone with those of a personal digital assistant (PDA). The majority of smartphones have advanced features which can perform the same tasks as a desktop computer.

Common types of smartphones include iPhones and Androids. One main feature of a smartphone is its ability to connect to the internet. This means that a smartphone user may be able to browse the internet directly through their smartphone.

A smartphone is also equipped with a camera, which allows the user to take photos and record videos using the device. Although a smartphone can be very useful and helpful, it can also present a safety risk if it is used while driving.

Due to the numerous functions that a smartphone is able to perform, drivers can easily become distracted if they are using a smartphone while driving. This may lead to an increase in automobile accidents in addition to an increase in driving violations.

What is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving means that the driver is distracted while they are driving because of any activity which might cause them to divert their attention to driving. Pursuant to the Department of Motor Vehicles, approximately 9 people die every day in the United States as a result of distracted driving.

Ways in which a driver can drive distracted include, but are not limited to:

  • Talking on a cell phone while driving;
  • Texting while driving;
  • Reaching for a phone;
  • Changing the radio station;
  • Checking the GPS;
  • Taking a photo or selfie;
  • Checking email;
  • Talking to a passenger;
  • Applying make-up; and
  • Eating and/or drinking.

Basically, any task which makes a driver look away from the road and to not pay attention to their surroundings would be considered an activity which creates distracted driving.

Is it Illegal to Use a Smartphone while Driving?

There are many states that do not have laws specifically addressing smartphone use while driving. About 40 states, however, have currently enacted distracted driving laws.

Distracted driving laws make engaging in any type of distraction while driving illegal, including the use of cell phones and rubbernecking. Although the majority of distracted driving laws address texting while driving, it may be presumed that distracted driving laws also prohibit the use of a smartphone while driving.

Using a smartphone while driving can be just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, as texting while driving. An individual may be cited for distracted driving if they use their smartphone for any of the following activities while they are driving:

  • Texting;
  • Chatting;
  • Reading or writing e-mails;
  • Surfing the internet;
  • Having a phone call without using a headset;
  • Taking videos or photographs;
  • Watching videos or viewing photographs; and
  • Entering in a GPS route while driving.

Essentially, any activity involving a smartphone which reduces the driver’s ability to concentrate on the road may be considered a violation. It is considered generally okay to listen to a music playlist or to use an audio-guided GPS program through a smartphone, as long as the driver programs such features before they begin driving.

What are the Distracted Driving Laws?

Laws governing traffic vary by state. However, the majority of states do have distracted driving laws.

Many of these new laws prohibit driving while using a cell phone or driving while texting. Certain states also prohibit other types of distracted driving, including shaving or applying make-up while driving.

There are other states which have enacted broad statutes that define distracted driving as engaging in an action while operating a vehicle that is not necessary to operating the vehicle and either impairs or would reasonably be expected to impair a driver’s ability to safely drive.

What are Some Cell Phone Laws?

Because of the prevalence of cell phone usage, there are many states that have enacted laws relating to the use of cell phones while driving. There are some states in which drivers are permitted to use their cell phones as long as they are hands-free, such as with a speaker or through bluetooth.

There are other states which prohibit any cell phone use, even with hands free devices be certain categories or drivers, such as those under the age of 18. A number of states also have laws which prohibit driving while texting.

These laws usually prohibit the use of other gadgets which could significantly distract a driver, including:

  • Emailing;
  • Web browsing;
  • Using smartphone apps;
  • Playing cell phone games; or
  • Other activities.

What is Texting While Driving?

Texting while driving includes doing any of the following related to a text message while operating a motor vehicle:

  • Reading;
  • Viewing;
  • Writing; or
  • Sending.

Texting while driving is classified as a moving traffic violation and, in some jurisdictions, may be a criminal misdemeanor. Studies show that texting while driving increases an individual’s risk of an automobile crash from between 2.8 to 23.2 times that of the normal risk.

The laws governing texting while driving are aimed mostly at deterrence, or prevention, instead of recovery of losses.

What are the Consequences for Violating Distracted Driving Laws?

The majority of smartphone violations can be classified under distracted driving laws. A violation of distracted driving laws or texting while driving laws may vary by state.

The legal consequences for violating a texting while driving law or a distracting driving law may include:

  • Traffic tickets;
  • Small monetary fines;
  • Criminal penalties, which may include jail time; and
  • Other consequences, such as having an individual’s license or driving privileges suspended, or having to attend traffic classes.

The legal consequences for distracted driving may increase with repeat offenses. In addition, if the violation involves serious injury to another driver, the punishment may be more severe, which may include higher fines or longer period of jail time.

It is important to note that not all states have smartphone laws. If an individual is unsure regarding the driving laws in their state, they can consult with an attorney for advice.
To be on the safe side, an individual should always use common sense and avoid using their smartphone while operating a motor vehicle.

Can Distracted Drivers Face Additional Liability?

Yes, a distracted driver may face additional liability, as they can be sued for negligence or recklessness. Distracted drivers are more prone to be involved in accidents and cause injuries.

A guilty verdict for a distracted driver may result in the defendant being required to pay damages and/or attorney’s fees.

What Compensation Can I Receive if I Have Been Injured by Someone Texting While Driving?

The exact amount of compensation which an individual will receive may vary depending upon the facts of the case. If an individual has been injured, they may be able to receive compensatory damage awards for any injuries they suffered.

An individual may also recover compensation for any expenses which they incurred related to their injury, such as medical bills and lost wages. In certain cases, punitive damages may also be awarded if a driver’s conduct was particularly egregious.

Punitive damages are those which are designed to punish an offender for their actions. For example, if the individual who caused the injury was previously fined for texting while driving, the court may award punitive damages as further punishment.

Do I Need a Lawyer if Cited for Smartphone Use While Driving?

If you have been cited for a violation of a distracted driving or smartphone while driving use law or any other traffic violation, it may be helpful to consult with a traffic violation attorney. There are some driving violations which may lead to complex criminal cases.

Your attorney can represent you in court, negotiate for a reduced sentence, and, in some cases, help get the charges against you dropped, if possible.


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