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.
NCSL's Power BI Distracted Driving charts provide a detailed overview of current laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia:
- Hand-held cellphone use ban: 27 states, D.C., Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving.
- Ohio prohibits hand-held cell phone or electronic device use while driving. However, drivers are still allowed to swipe their phones to answer calls and hold them to their ears during a conversation.
- All cellphone ban: No state bans all cellphone use for all drivers, but 36 states and D.C. ban all cellphone use by novice or teen drivers, and 18 states and D.C. prohibit any cellphone use for school bus drivers.
- Text messaging ban: 49 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers.
- Other states prohibit hand-held cellphone or all cellphone use by all or certain drivers in certain zones.
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.