Distracted driving is a significant public health and safety issue, particularly as the prevalence of new communication technologies increases the potential for driving distracted.
Although lawmakers at the state, federal and local levels are examining a wide variety of issues related to driver distraction, the most common concern is the potential distraction caused by cell phones and other technology in the car. More than 220 million people in the United States subscribe to wireless services, and it is estimated that as many as 80% of those subscribers use their phones while driving.
States primarily use hand-held and texting bans to combat distracted driving. Hand-held bans are laws that allow the use of mobile devices while driving only in hands-free mode—usually through voice communication or by activating with a single tap or swipe. A growing number of states also include a prohibition to access, view or read non-navigation related content. Texting bans prohibit drivers from typing or sending text messages while driving but allow talking on a hand-held mobile device. Many of these bans provide for various exemptions, including for emergencies, law enforcement and first responders.
Twenty-five states—Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia—and the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have banned hand-held electronic personal device use by all drivers. Legislatures in other states have prohibited hand-held cell phone or all cell phone use by younger drivers, school bus drivers or in certain zones.
Of the states without hand-held bans for all drivers, 21 have primary enforcement texting bans for all drivers. Ohio and Nebraska have secondary enforcement texting bans, Missouri has a primary enforcement texting ban for drivers under 21, and Montana has no bans.
*NCSL closely monitors the latest developments in distracted driving legislation. Many states that have passed hand-held bans and texting bans provide for various exemptions for emergencies, law enforcement personnel, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, state DOT employees, etc. For more information about exemptions, please contact Samantha Bloch.
Cell Phone Use and Texting While Driving Laws
- Nearly 303 million people in the United States have cell phones. At any given moment during the daylight hours, more than 800,000 vehicles are being driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone.
- In 2018, approximately 2,841 people in this country died in crashes that involved a distracted driver, and an estimated additional 400,000 people were injured.
- A study by AAA revealed that electronics use is the leading source of distraction for teen drivers.
- The federal surface transportation reauthorization, known as the FAST Act, contains incentive grant provisions for states if they pass distracted driving laws that meet certain criteria.
States are eligible to apply for a Distracted Driving Grant if they have enacted and are enforcing:
- Primary law prohibiting texting while driving with a minimum fine for a first violation and increased fines for subsequent offenses. The law must not provide for an exemption to allow texting while stopped in traffic.
- Primary law prohibiting youth under age 18 from using a cell phone while driving, with minimum fine and increased fines for subsequent violations, and requiring distracted driving issues to be included in the state driver’s license exam.
Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, CTIA-The Wireless Association, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
- Driven to Distraction, State Legislatures, July 2019
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2018, Sept. 2019 by Douglas Shinkle, Annie Kitch and Kevin Pula.
- State and Federal Efforts to Reduce Distracted Driving, LegisBrief, June 2018, by Ann Kitch.
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2017, June 2018 by Amanda Essex, Douglas Shinkle, Amanda Miller and Kevin Pula.
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2016, April 2017 by Anne Teigen, Amanda Essex and Douglas Shinkle.
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2015, February 2016, by Anne Teigen, Douglas Shinkle and Amanda Essex.
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2014, February 2015, by Anne Teigen, Douglas Shinkle and Amanda Essex.
- Cell Phone Use and Texting While Driving Laws
- Distracted Driving Policy Update Webinar
- LegisBrief: "Addressing Distracted Driving," December 2009
- Press release
- Traffic Safety Legislation Tracking Database
- LegisBrief: "Texting While Driving Could Spell D-A-N-G-E-R," March 2009
- Major State Transportation Legislation, 2009
- State Legislative Update on Distracted Driving