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Distracted Driving Laws In The US

Distracted driving laws regulate the use of cell phones and other hand held devices while driving. Talking on a cell phone while driving is the number one cause of distracted driving, which results in hundreds of thousands of car accidents each year. Most states prohibit drivers from using cell phones, but these laws vary from state-to-state. Some states have laws banning any use of a cell phone while driving where others allow hands-free devices such as Bluetooth or headsets.

Hand-Held Ban

A hand-held ban refers to talking on a cell phone while holding it in your hands or using any other hand held electronic device such as an MP3 player or GPS. Additionally, drivers are prohibited from using a hand-held cell phone for navigational purposes. Most states allow the use of such devices in emergency situations.

GPS Bans

Programming a GPS while driving is usually banned in all states where using an electronic handheld device is banned. Laws in the following states specifically mention the ban of using a GPS system: Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Washington. These laws allow GPS devices to be attached to a car’s dashboard or windshield but may not be used to enter information while driving. The state of New York does not allow hand-held GPS systems but may be used if affixed to a dashboard.

Primary and Secondary Enforcement

Distracted driving laws are divided into two categories: primary and secondary. A primary law means that an officer may pull you over if they notice that you are violating a cell phone use ban, even if you haven't committed another traffic violation prior to that. The chart below outlines all primary laws in each state and will note if the law is secondary.

A secondary law means that an officer has to witness a driver committing another violation first, so that they can pull you over, and if you are seen violating a secondary ban after you've been pulled over, you may be ticketed for that, as well.

Bans For Bus Drivers

Most states ban school bus drivers from text messaging and hand-held cell phone use while driving. In Texas, bus drivers are prohibited from text messaging if there is a passenger aged 17 or younger in the bus.

Go here for a chart showing distracted driving penalties

State Ban on Use of Hand-held Electronic Devices Ban on Text Messaging Novice Driver Ban on Texting Novice Driver Ban on Cell Phones(1) Novice Driver Definition
Alabama(2)
16 and 17 year old drivers who have held an intermediate license for fewer than 6 months
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas(3)
Drivers between 18 and 20 years old
California
✔(4)
✔ (secondary)
Drivers younger than 18
Colorado
Drivers younger than 18
Connecticut
Drivers younger than 18
Delaware
Learner or intermediate license
D.C.
Learner's permit
Florida
Georgia
Drivers younger than 18
Guam
Hawaii(5)
Idaho
Illinois(6)
Drivers younger than 19
Indiana
Drivers younger than 18
Iowa
✔ (secondary)
Restricted or intermediate license
Kansas
Learner or intermediate license
Kentucky
Drivers younger than 18
Louisiana
✔(7)
✔(7)
Drivers younger than 18 or within one year of first license
Maine
Drivers younger than 18
Maryland
✔ (secondary)
✔ (secondary)
Drivers younger than 18 or with learner/provisional license
Massachusetts
Drivers younger than 18
Michigan
✔(8)
✔(8)
✔(8)
Level 1 or 2 License
Minnesota
Drivers younger than 18 or with learner/provisional license during the first year after obtaining the license
Mississippi
Learner or provisional license
Missouri
Drivers younger than 21
Montana
Nebraska
✔ (secondary)
✔ (secondary)
✔ (secondary)
Drivers younger than 18 or with learner/provisional license
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
Permit or Provisional License
New Mexico(9)
Drivers younger than 18 or with learner/provisional license
New York
North Carolina
Drivers younger than 18
North Dakota
Drivers younger than 18
Ohio
✔ (secondary)
Drivers younger than 18
Oklahoma
Learner or intermediate license
Oregon
Drivers younger than 18
Pennsylvania
Puerto Rico
Rhode Island
Drivers younger than 18
South Carolina(10)
South Dakota
✔ (secondary)
✔ (secondary)
Learner or intermediate license
Tennessee
Learner or intermediate license
Texas(11)
Drivers younger than 18
Utah
Drivers younger than 18
Vermont
Drivers younger than 18
Virgin Islands
 
Virginia
✔ (secondary)
✔ (secondary)
Drivers younger than 18
Washington
Learner or intermediate license
West Virginia
✔(12) (secondary)
Drivers younger than 18 or with learner/provisional license
Wisconsin
Learner or intermediate license
Wyoming
Drivers younger than 18
  1. Includes ban on hands-free devices such as Bluetooth unless otherwise stated
  2. Additional bans on distracted driving are in effect in Birmingham, Decatur, Huntsville, Montgomery, Madison, Vestavia Hills, Gadsden, Jacksonville, Roanoke, Scottsboro, Fairhope, Spanish Fort, Florence
  3. Arkansas has banned the use of hand-held cell phones while driving in school zones and highway work zones
  4. Drivers over 18 may use hands free voice integrated systems for text messaging in California
  5. In Hawaii, there will be a ban in effect on July 01 2013 for all drivers using hand held devices while driving. Novice drivers (younger than 18) will not allowed to use hands free devices as well.
  6. Illinois has banned using cell phones while driving in a school zone or in a highway construction zone.
  7. In Louisiana, drivers who still have their first driver's license, are prohibited from using a cell phone while driving for one year. This is a secondary law for drivers over the age of 18
  8. There is an exception for hands-free voice-operated systems in Michigan
  9. There is a hand-held ban for drivers in state vehicles in New Mexico
  10. South Carolina has a distracted/inattention attribute under contributing factors. This means it may be listed as a cause to an accident. There are also local laws in place for distracted driving in Camden, Columbia, Walhalla, Clemson, Sumter and West Union.
  11. Texas has banned the use of hand-held phones and texting in school zones. Texting while driving is prohibited in several cities in Texas, including: Alamo, Arlington, Austin, Bellaire, Brownsville, Conroe, El Paso, Galveston, Harlingen, Magnolia, McAllen, Mission, Missouri City, Mount Vernon, Nacogdoches, Palmview, Penitas, San Antonio, Shoreacres, Stephenville, Tomball, Universal City, West University Place.
  12. The hand-held ban in West Virginia will become primary after July 1st 2013
 

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