Texting Laws

Texting While Driving

Since cell phones have been created, they have caused a threat to driver safety in the United States. Cell phones cause a driver's mind to be distracted by speaking on the phone. As cell phones have advanced, the ability to send text messages has created an even greater danger to drivers and pedestrians alike. What makes texting much more dangerous is that both hands are off the wheel, and the driver is looking down while they are texting. Car accidents can be caused by not looking at the road for one second. Texting creates such a distraction to drivers that the United States has seen a spike in car accidents since texting became available on cell phones. In 2007, Washington became the first state to ban texting while driving. Since Washington’s bold decision, many states have decided to create legislation protecting citizens against the dangers of texting and driving.

A Brief History of Cell Phones & Their Relationship to Casualties in the United States

Mobile phones that were installed in cars first became widely popular in the United States in the 1990s because it enabled consumers to be in touch with their family, friends, or business partners when they were outside of their homes or offices. While at the time, this invention seemed like a wonderful convenient idea; it was the beginning of having a safety issue related to talking and texting while driving. The first mobile phone was sold in the United States in 1984 for $3,995, and it was substantially larger than the cell phones drivers are using today. However, the sale of that cell phone launched a new era of people in the United States always wanting to stay in touch, unfortunately, even when they are driving.

In 1993, texting was first introduced to the market and was primarily available on Nokia phones. While texting at first was just traditional text on green screen phones, it quickly changed how individuals communicated and ended up creating a temptation to converse while doing many daily activities, including driving. In 2007, is when the cell phone market created another product called the Smartphone, which changed how individuals communicated and interacted once again. What made the Smartphone wonderful is that it was able to browse the internet and support Apps. However, the Smartphone did increase the temptation to use it while driving. Due to the increased use of both Smartphones and standard cell phones, 9% of fatal crashes involve distracted driving. Due to these shocking statistics, many states have decided to change their policy of cell phones and texting while operating vehicles.

Legislation in Response to Distracted Driving in the United States

There has been a great deal of debate about how to reduce the dangers related to distracted driving in the United States. Since each state has its own ability to create legislation, they have their own internal debates about how to lower the alarming amount of fatal car accidents each year involving distracted driving from cell phones. Distracted driving can be divided into the following categories:

  • Talking on a hand-held device such as a cell phone while driving
  • Talking on a cell phone that is on speaker phone or through using a headset while driving that is programed in a vehicle’s audio system
  • Using a cell phone as a novice driver or school bus driver
  • Texting while driving

Depending on the state, there are different ways that offenses committed by distracted drivers are codified into statutes. States have also created additional distracted driving laws that focus on novice drivers and school bus drivers. It is important to carefully check each state’s laws to be sure you are in compliance.

Hand-held Cell Phone Use Ban

There is currently a hand-held cell phone ban in 19 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The 19 states that currently have a hand-held cell phone use banned are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. For Utah, they have created their legislation slightly differently and created an entire category for Distracted Driving offenses. The number of states that have a hand-held cell phone use ban is increasing, and many are applying special provisions to driving in a school zone or for novice drivers.

Cell Phone Bans Based on Age or Profession

Many states have taken more drastic measures towards driving with cell phones but have divided them by age or profession. Currently, no state has banned the use of cell phones while driving outright. States have been cracking down on novice drivers because of the great danger their new driving skills adds to the road when they are on their cell phones. There are currently 38 states along with Washington D.C. that have banned the use of cell phones by novice or teen drivers. The states that have banned the use of cell phones for novice drivers are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

In addition, 22 states and Washington D.C. prohibit any cell phone use by school bus drivers. The states that prohibit the use of cell phones by school bus drivers are Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Text Messaging Ban

Text messaging is banned for drivers in 48 states and Washington D.C. Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands have also banned text messaging while driving. The two states that have not made outright text messaging ban laws are Montana and Missouri. Missouri has started to follow the nationwide trend but is still limiting their text messaging ban to novice drivers.

Do Any States in the United States Have Unique Regulations
Related to Texting While Driving?

Texting While Driving

Most states have decided that imposing regulations to deter texting while driving is important for public safety. Montana currently is the only state that does not have any regulations in place to prevent texting while driving. Previously, Florida and Arizona had been more lenient about texting while driving. Arizona has already shifted their laws related to texting while driving. However, as of October 1, 2019, Florida will be implementing a texting while driving ban. Mississippi and Oklahoma previously only banned novice drivers from texting, which they have now transitioned into a full text message ban. Texas used to have a ban against novice drivers and drivers in school crossing zones, which has now shifted into banning texting while driving across the state. Missouri currently remains the only state that has their texting while driving ban for individuals under 21 years of age.

What Are the Punishments for Texting While Driving?

Texting while driving is legally defined as “the act of reading, viewing, writing, or sending text messages via cell phone while operating a motor vehicle.” Each state has its own unique laws about how to handle texting while driving that are structured as a deterrence mechanism since the accident statistics are severe . The current trend with punishments related to texting while driving is that the offense is treated as a moving traffic violation and can also be a criminal misdemeanor in some jurisdictions. Some of the most common punishments for texting while driving are listed below:

  • Monetary fines ranging from $20 all the way up to $500
  • Criminal charges as a Misdemeanor Class B or C offense
  • Jail or prison time if an individual’s texting while driving resulted in bodily injury to another driver
  • If it is a second offense, some judges impose more severe punishments on a case-by-case basis
  • Suspension of driving privileges
  • Vehicle impoundment
  • Required road safety courses
  • Points on an individual’s driving record
  • If the driver is a school bus driver, some jurisdictions impose a fine of over $2,000

Future Challenges

Even though many states have created legislation to protect drivers and pedestrians from the dangers of distracted driving, it is going to take a long time to reduce the habit of using cell phones while driving. Policy makers are still debating alternative incentives to using cell phones while driving, particularly for texting. There have been attempts to put buttons on steering wheels but these options still do not directly address the driver’s mind being distracted. In the coming years, it is highly likely that more states will take stricter action with regards to distracted driving in an effort to protect the safety of the public.