Restrictions on cell phone use while driving in the United States

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Cell phone use is regulated by local ordinance during certain hours in Southside Place, Texas, in Greater Houston

Various laws in the United States regulate the use of mobile phones and other electronics by motorists. Different states take different approaches. Some laws affect only novice drivers or commercial drivers, while some laws affect all drivers. Some laws target handheld devices only, while other laws affect both handheld and handsfree devices.

Regulatory laws

The laws regulating driving (or distracted driving) may be subject to primary enforcement or secondary enforcement by state, county or local authorities.[1] All State-level cell phone use laws in the United States are of the primary enforcement type—meaning an officer may cite a driver for using a hand-held cell phone without any other traffic offense having taken place—except in some cases involving newer (or "novice"), drivers.[2] In the case of secondary enforcement, a police officer may only stop or cite a driver for a cell phone use violation if the driver has committed another primary violation (such as speeding, failure to stop, etc.) at the same time.

A federal transportation funding law passed in July 2012, known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), provided $17.5 million in grants during fiscal year 2013 for states with primary enforcement laws against distracted driving, including laws prohibiting cell phone use while driving. States with secondary enforcement laws or no laws at all are ineligible to receive this grant funding.[3][4]

Laws by state

No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers. However, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia (effective January 1, 2021), Washington, West Virginia (plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands) prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Thirty-six states and Washington, D.C. ban all cell phone use by newer drivers, while 19 states and Washington, D.C. prohibit any cell phone use by school bus drivers if children are present.[2]

Cell Phone Restrictions While Driving in the US and Territories[5]
State Total handheld device ban applied to: Any cell phone use by driver prohibited if: Bus driver use restriction(s) Texting & Internet Access Effective date Comment
Alabama 16 and under, and 17 w/ temporary license or if licensed under six months (primary violation) texting prohibited (primary)[6]
Alaska totally prohibited No restrictions on cell phone use
Arizona texting prohibited[6] none[6]
Arkansas 18–20 years old (primary violation) under 18 (secondary violation) totally prohibited texting prohibited (primary)[6] Any cell phone use prohibited in school or construction zones (secondary violation).
California All (primary violation)[7] under 18 (secondary violation) totally prohibited (primary) texting prohibited[6]
Colorado on learner's permit or under 18 (primary violation)[7] totally prohibited (primary)[6]
Connecticut All (primary violation) under 18 (primary violation) totally prohibited
Delaware All (primary violation) on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)[7] totally prohibited
Florida[8] School zones and active construction zones(primary) Allowed only while stopped at a red light. Otherwise prohibited. (Primary) Hands free earpieces can only be used in one ear.
Georgia All Drivers (primary violation) Under 18 (primary violation) Driver totally prohibited unless used for routing communication Driver totally prohibited, includes video Driver Allowed to use hands free devices (specific ones) and voice to text with hands free devices and allowed to use permanent mounted GPS, Drivers are allowed to make emergency calls and report hazardous road conditions. Commercial Vehicle Drivers have limited use directly related to their work (GPS or Routing Communication) effective date 1 July 2018.
Guam All (primary violation)
Hawaii All (primary violation)[9] under 18 (primary violation) totally prohibited Statewide law entered into force July 2013; all counties had existing bans on cell phone use. Drivers 18 and older may use hands-free devices.[9]
Idaho No statewide laws enacted; authorities track "distractions" on accident reports.
Illinois All (primary violation) any driver under 19 (primary violation) totally prohibited Any cell phone use prohibited in school or construction zones or within 500 feet of an emergency scene (primary violation).[10]
Indiana under 21 (primary violation) totally prohibited totally prohibited Indiana currently bars adults from texting while driving, but not talking on cell phones-
Iowa on restricted or intermediate license (primary violation) totally prohibited (primary) July 1, 2017 updated the texting law to be enforced as a primary reason an officer can stop you. "Texting" is defined as: texting, internet browsing, playing games, and reading social media applications.[11][12]

If proven you were "texting" during a traffic fatality, it is deemed a Class C felony, and you can be put into prison for up to 10 years.[13][12]

Kansas on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)
Kentucky under 18 (primary violation) totally prohibited
Louisiana prohibited in school zones[14] on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)[15][16] totally prohibited[17] June 13, 2016
Maine Totally prohibited Totally prohibited [7]
Maryland all (primary violation)[18] under 18 w/ restricted learner or intermediate license[7]
Massachusetts (ban taking effect in February 2020) under 18 (primary violation) totally prohibited totally prohibited Until February 2020, handheld cell phone use allowed as long as one hand is on the wheel at all times.[7] February 2020 law will allow one tap to activate voice communication, and use of navigational touch screens are allowed if mounted on windshield or dashboard.[19]
Michigan level-1 or level-2 license (primary violation)
Minnesota all (primary violation)

as of 08/01/2019

under 18 w/ learner or provisional license (primary violation)[7] totally prohibited
Mississippi totally prohibited
Nebraska under 18 w/ learner or intermediate license (secondary violation)
Nevada all (primary violation)[20]
New Hampshire all (primary violation) totally prohibited Penalty Schedule:
  1. 1st Offense - $100 Fine
  2. 2nd Offense - $250 Fine.
  3. 3rd Offense - $500 Fine, and a 2-year suspension of drivers license.
New Jersey all (primary violation)[21] on permit or provisional license (primary violation).[7] totally prohibited see Kyleigh's Law
New Mexico Local Option by Jurisdiction[7] on learner or provisional license (primary violation)
New York all (primary violation)[22]
North Carolina under 18 (primary violation) totally prohibited texting prohibited (Primary) Internet access okay
North Dakota under 18 (primary violation)
Ohio under 18 (primary violation)[23]
Oklahoma learner or intermediate license holder (primary violation) totally prohibited
Oregon all (primary violation) under 18 (primary violation)[7]
Pennsylvania $50 fine for texting while driving.[7]
Puerto Rico all (primary violation)
Rhode Island all (primary violation) 06/01/2018 under 18 (primary violation)[7] totally prohibited
South Carolina Totally prohibited, but officers must ascertain that a driver is texting rather than using the phone for another purpose.[24] Authorities can impose fines and track "distractions" on accident reports under Contributing Factors.
South Dakota on learner or intermediate license (secondary violation)
Tennessee All (primary violation) on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)[7] totally prohibited texting prohibited [25]
Texas Driving through school zones under 18 (primary violation) totally prohibited texting prohibited [26]
Utah under 18 (primary violation) Regulated under distracted driving laws.[7]
Vermont all (primary violation) under 18 (primary violation) [27] totally prohibited (primary)[28] GPS use of cell phone is allowed if the cell phone is securely mounted and not in the driver's hand[29]

First offense shall be subject to a fine of $100 - $200[29]

Second and subsequent offenses shall be subject to a fine of $250 - $500 if within a 2-year period[29]

Virgin Islands all (primary violation)
Virginia under 18 (primary violation)[7]all (effective January 1, 2021)[30] under 18 (secondary violation)[7]all (effective January 1, 2020)[30] totally prohibited totally prohibited January 1, 2021 Use of phone to talk is allowed, but text or email by the driver whilst vehicle is operational on state roads is prohibited. An exception exists for using GPS, dialing a number to make a call, or reporting an emergency.

As of January 1, 2021, all handheld use of a phone will be prohibited. Exceptions allowed for when lawfully parked or stopped, emergency vehicles, reporting an emergency, using the radio, and traffic incident management workers.[30]

Washington all (primary violation)[7] on learner or intermediate license (primary violation) Texting prohibited
Washington, D.C. all (primary violation) on learner permit (primary violation)[7] totally prohibited totally prohibited
West Virginia all (primary violation) under 18 w/ learner or intermediate license (primary violation)
Wisconsin Driving through construction zones on learner or intermediate license (primary violation) Texting prohibited[31]
Wyoming on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)[7]

Preemption laws

Often, local authorities pass their own distracted driving bans—most include the use of cell phones while driving. Several states (Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma) have prohibited localities from enacting their own laws regarding cell phone use.[2]

Cost of distracted driving

A 2014 report from the National Safety Council, which compiles data on injuries and fatalities from 2013 and earlier, concluded that use of mobile phones caused 26% of U.S. car accidents.[32] Just 5% of mobile phone-related accidents in the U.S. involved texting[33]: "The majority of the accidents involve drivers distracted while talking on handheld or hands-free cellphones."[32]

The U.S. Department of Transportation has established an official website to combat distracted driving, Distraction.gov.[34]

In 2010, the State Farm insurance company stated that mobile phone use annually resulted in: 636,000 crashes, 330,000 personal injuries, 12,000 major injuries, 2,700 deaths, and $43 billion in damages.[35]

See also


  1. ^ State Laws; "Government: Get the Facts;" retrieved April 2013
  2. ^ a b c Cellphone Laws; GHSA on line; retrieved April 30, 2013
  3. ^ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) (August 22, 2012), U.S. Department of Transportation Announces New Federal Grant Program to Help States Fight Distracted Driving, retrieved August 30, 2013
  4. ^ American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) (August 24, 2012), "States Vie for New Federal Funding to Help End Distracted Driving", AASHTO Journal, retrieved August 30, 2013
  5. ^ Cell Phone Driving Bans...; PC World; retrieved May 01, 2013
  6. ^ a b c d e f Cellular Phone Use and Texting While Driving Laws; NCSL online; accessed October 4, 2016
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Let's Talk (May 1, 2013). "Cell Phone Driving Laws by State". Archived from the original on December 26, 2012.
  8. ^ "New Texting Laws Protect Florida Drivers". Florida Farm Bureau Insurance. 2019-08-01. Retrieved 2020-01-03.
  9. ^ a b Busek, Amy (May 21, 2013), "Law bans driver's use of cellphone", Honolulu Star-Advertiser, retrieved July 22, 2013 (subscription required)
  10. ^ Cell Phone Laws; Insurance institute for Highway Safety; retrieved April 2013
  11. ^ https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGE/87/SF234.pdf
  12. ^ a b "It's official: Texting while driving in Iowa can get you pulled over — and even land you in prison". Des Moines Register. Retrieved 2017-06-25.
  13. ^ https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ga=87&ba=SF%20444
  14. ^ "Louisiana State Legislature". legis.la.gov. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
  15. ^ "Louisiana State Legislature". legis.la.gov. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
  16. ^ "Louisiana State Legislature". legis.la.gov. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
  17. ^ "Louisiana State Legislature". legis.la.gov. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
  18. ^ New Bill Makes Talking On Handheld Cell Phone While Driving Primary Offense; March 03, 2013 article; CBS Baltimore; retrieved May 01, 2013
  19. ^ Gov. Charlie Baker signs distracted driving bill
  20. ^ Handheld Cell Phone Ban Archived 2013-05-13 at the Wayback Machine; Nevada DOT online; retrieved May 01, 2013
  21. ^ [The New Jersey Driver Manual]
  22. ^ Cell Phone; NYS: Department of Motor Vehicles on line; retrieved April 2013
  23. ^ Ticketing begins on state law prohibiting cellphone use by young drivers: Road Rant; February 28, 2013 article; by John Horton; at The Plain Dealer; retrieved April 2013
  24. ^ http://handsfreeinfo.com/14089-south-carolina-texting/
  25. ^ http://law.justia.com/codes/tennessee/2010/title-55/chapter-8/55-8-199
  26. ^ [1] What you need to know about Texas' texting and driving ban; Dallas News accessed September 2017
  27. ^ Morning Commuters Mostly Stow Cellphones; Burlington Freepress on line; accessed October 2016
  28. ^ Distracted Driving; Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles; accessed July 2019
  29. ^ a b c The Vermont Statutes Online
  30. ^ a b c "Virginia HB874 | 2020 | Regular Session". LegiScan. Retrieved 2020-03-25.
  31. ^ "Wisconsin Department of Transportation" (PDF).
  32. ^ a b Gabrielle Kratsas, Cellphone use causes over 1 in 4 car accidents, USA Today (March 28, 2014).
  33. ^ "New Florida Law Prohibiting Texting And Driving Officially In Effect". Stuart Magazine. Retrieved 2019-11-18.
  34. ^ Distraction.gov, U.S. Department of Transportation.
  35. ^ Cell Phone Use While Driving; State Farm – Learning Center; retrieved May 01, 2013

Further reading

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