Distracted driving has become a widespread problem in the United States. On average, teen drivers are 4x more likely than adults to be involved in a car accident while texting or talking on a cell phone. Additionally, roughly 60% of teenage car accidents are caused by distracted driving, which includes text messaging.
“Teen texting” refers to a driver under the age of 20 operating a motor vehicle while typing, viewing, or reading text messages on a mobile device. It should be noted that as of March 2018, 38 states ban any cell phone use by a teen or novice driver.
No, federal law does not prohibit texting while driving, including that by teenagers. Currently, 47 states have banned all texting while driving, while 2 states prohibit texting by novice drivers.
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The novice driver classification generally refers to drivers under 21 years of age with a driver’s license or learner’s permit. Some states refer to drivers under age 18 as novice drivers. In other states, the novice classification refers to any driver with a learner’s permit or provisional license.
A novice driver also includes someone who has had a license for less than 6 months. Which means an older driver, even someone who is over 30 or 40, who is newly licensed would be considered a novice driver until they had their license for more than 6 months.
Violations for teen driving and texting are either primary or secondary law, depending on the state. Primary law means a police officer can stop a driver for a particular offense. Secondary law means an officer cannot pull the driver over for that particular offense, but can pull the driver over for a different violation.
For instance, in states where teen texting is a secondary offense, if a police officer sees a teen texting while driving, the teen will have to commit another crime, such as running a red light to be pulled over.
The consequences for teen texting while driving differs between jurisdictions. Typical penalties include:
- Fines (Up to $10,000 in Alaska)
- Driver’s license point penalties
- Driver’s license suspension. For instance, in Ohio, drivers under age 18 face a $150 fine and a six month driver’s license suspension
- Jail time (In Utah, a fine of $750 and possible jail time)
Jail time is also a possibility for teenage drivers who have multiple texting while driving offenses. If a driver injures anyone because they were texting and driving, or if they were driving under the influence and texting, incarceration is likely.
If you are facing a teen texting and driving charge, it is a good idea to speak with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Typically, novice teen drivers will face stiffer penalties than their adult counterparts. An experienced lawyer will be able to advise you of your rights and provide legal representation and guidance for your next steps in the legal process.