North Carolina Distracted Driving Laws
- Ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for bus drivers (Primary Law).
- Ban on all cell phone (handheld and hands-free) for novice drivers (Primary Law).
- Ban on texting for all drivers (Primary Law).
North Carolina’s Texting While Driving Stand
At the close of 2011, there was no legislation in North Carolina governing the use of cell phones by adults while driving. Texting on phones or internet and email usage on all handheld devices by drivers of any age is specifically forbidden. Drivers under the age of 18 are disallowed from cell phone use of any kind while driving, with the exception of making an emergency call to parents. School bus drivers may not use a device of any kind while driving and face a Class 2 misdemeanor charge if caught.
While both local and state council members proposed legislation in 2011 that would extend current parameters, the bills met with stiff opposition and were either withdrawn or dismissed outright.
No legislation governing cell phone usage existed in North Carolina prior to 2009. North Carolina’s General Committee considered three distinct laws that were designed specifically to address current loopholes in cell phone usage. One proposal would have banned the usage of handheld devices outright for both teens and adults but offered an exemption for hands-free communication devices. The remaining two bills proposed to include hands-free devices as part of a total ban on all electronic communication while operating a moving vehicle.
Around 1,200 accidents per year are directly attributed to cell phone usage in North Carolina. Lawmakers seeking to reduce the number of incidents and fatalities cited accident data as justification for proposing tighter restrictions.
The North Carolina Highway Patrol implemented a campaign in 2012 to focus on major corridors of travel such as Interstates 95, 84, and 40. Drivers in these areas will face additional scrutiny for any activity behind the wheel other than driving. Applying makeup, reading a book, texting, talking on a cell phone, eating, playing with a radio or MP3 device, and other activities will cause drivers to be singled out by law enforcement personnel. As one official explained, the campaign is designed to alert drivers to the added danger any kind of distracting activity can cause to both drivers and those around them. Drivers caught engaging in any distracting activities will face being ticketed for reckless driving.
No legislation is proposed currently to address tighter restrictions on cell phone usage; instead, law enforcement is currently focusing on awareness training and distracted driving campaigns to alert the public to the dangers of reckless driving.
Individual town councils discussed the passing of tighter restrictions on cell phone usage while driving. For example, Chapel Hill’s city council proposed a measure that would ban all cell phone usage by drivers while within limits of the city. The measure passed by an overwhelming margin and the council members stated that this success increased the likelihood of state measures gaining eventual support.
In the town of Scotland, however, a similar tightening of restrictions failed to garner enough support to pass the proposed bill and it was unceremoniously pulled from consideration before a vote could be reached. Tabling an unpopular bill rather than allowing it to suffer the ignominy of defeat is a strategic play to keep the bill alive for consideration in the future. Proponents of the bill hope to raise the issue again in the future if the proposal gains increased popularity. Opponents of the bill cite the failure to gain support as a definitive sign that the legislation has no future validity.
The watershed year for legislation governing the use of cell phones in North Carolina was 2009. While proposals for tightening restrictions surfaced as early as 2005, no legislation passed until 2009, nor has any state legislation passed since then. Governor Beverly Purdue received legislation on June 19 banning the use of cell phones for texting, or devices for emailing while driving, which she signed immediately. The fine for breaking this law amounted to $100, with no points counting against a driver’s record. School bus drivers faced stiffer penalties, with any handheld device usage carrying a Class 2 misdemeanor charge and a fine of $100 or more.
Teen drivers holding a provisional license could face an additional six-month wait as part of the penalty for using a cell phone while driving. This further penalty relies upon catching a driver in the act; however, when polled, most students of this age admitted to engaging in the forbidden behavior in spite of tightened legislation.
In addition, cell phone usage could be classed as a mitigating factor in traffic violations of any kind, carrying a further $100 fine. The bill banning texting by all ages of drivers passed with an overwhelming 95 percent of state legislators in favor of the total ban.
Critics of cell phone-banning bills cite the reason for their disenchantment with the legislation lies in the difficulty of enforcing such laws. Dialing while driving, which is currently legal, is indistinguishable from texting while driving, which is illegal. Opponents argue that these laws are inherently unenforceable because it is difficult to catch the vast majority of those engaging in the behavior.
More than 1,200 drivers in North Carolina have been ticketed for cell phone infractions since the legislation went into effect in 2009. Future additions to existing legislation will face an uphill battle against impassioned critics who favor loosening the restrictions currently in place.