Distracted driving has become a very serious issue that greatly affects traffic safety. Today, it is the leading cause of car accidents, which is why there are laws that aim to deter drivers from engaging in activities that prevent them from paying attention to the road. Texting and talking on a cell phone are the most common driver distractions, so distracted driving laws impose restrictions on cell phone use by drivers.
Almost all states have enacted some type of distracted driving laws, which vary from one state to another. Some states have more lenient laws, with mild or symbolic fines, whereas others impose strict bans, with hundreds of dollars in fines and even jail sentences as part of the distracted driving penalties. In general, these laws are tougher on novice drivers, who are banned from all cell phone use in many states.
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Currently, using a hand-held cell phone while driving is banned in 12 states, along with D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These bans apply to all drivers, regardless of their age and what type of license they hold.
No state prohibits all drivers from all cell phone use. However, some states prohibit novice drivers and school bus drivers from using both hand-held and hands-free cell phones. Currently, there is an all cell phone use ban for novice drivers in 37 states, while 20 states have a ban on all cell phone use for school bus drivers.
Text messaging for all drivers is banned in 41 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In most of these states, the text messaging ban calls for primary enforcement. This means that an officer is allowed to cite a driver for text messaging, even if the driver hasn’t committed another traffic violation. Apart from these states, where the text messaging ban applies to all drivers, there are states that only prohibit novice drivers or school bus drivers from this extremely distracting activity.
In most states, emergency personnel is exempt from bans on texting while driving. Also, there are exemptions for drivers who need to send a text message in case of emergency.
As far as penalties are concerned, some states are mild, with fines as low as $20, but there are also states where those who get caught texting or talking on a cell phone while driving have to pay much higher fines, and even face a license suspension and jail time.