Texting While Driving State Laws

State governments are starting to take notice of the rise in accidents and fatalities associated with the common practice of, and lawmakers have initiated laws and regulations in an effort to curb distracted driving.


Safety Issues With Distracted Driving

25% of all car collisions are caused by a driver not paying attention. The question is whether cell phones are considered distracting. Some studies have indicated that a driver is distracted when answering or dialing his cell phone and this action has contributed to the increase in accident rates. Whereas, others have established that the conversation itself is the chief reason, especially conversations that are emotional.

Still, others have claimed that talking on the phone while driving is only as distracting as other typical activities that are frequently done by a driver in a vehicle such as eating, changing the station on the radio, or talking to other people in the car.

Interestingly, researchers have concluded that the use of devices that are hands-free is inevitably not much safer than the use of a handheld device. Many drivers fiddle with the headphones or earpieces for a longer length of time than when they dial a handheld phone. Volume issues with the hands-free phones are also cited as distractions.

Some feel that the devices that allow cell phone calls to be received through the car speakers could be a safer option. However, if the conversation itself is the distraction that is generally more dangerous, then that device is actually no safer than the handheld phone drivers use.

Individual State Bans

Some states have decided to outlaw the use of a handheld phone when driving, or they have banned the use of a cell phone for certain drivers. However, most will make exceptions for an emergency call. According to the FCC:

  • 16 states, as well as Washington DC, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam ban drivers from hand-held device use.
  • 38 states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by novice drivers, and 21 states and D.C. prohibit it for school bus drivers.
  • 47 states, as well as the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam ban texting while driving.

Handheld Devices & Cell Phones

47 states have already enacted laws that ban using a handheld cell phone while driving, including:

  • Connecticut
  • California
  • New Jersey
  • Maryland
  • New York
  • Washington
  • Oregon
  • Washington D.C.
  • Virgin Islands

Except for Maryland, all other states allow for ‘primary enforcement of an offense.’ This means that a police officer can pull a driver over simply for using his handheld phone. In other words, the driver does not have to make/have any other violations that require a traffic stop.

Juvenile/Novice Drivers

There are 38 states (and the District of Columbia) that have decided to enact individual cell phone laws for the novice and juvenile drivers. A novice driver is an individual that only has a learner’s permit, no matter what the age. The juvenile driver would be any individual under the age of eighteen. For instance, drivers who are not eighteen years of age in California are not allowed to use any kind of communication device while operating a vehicle. In the majority of these 29 states, the laws do allow for primary enforcement.

School Bus Drivers

21 states and the District of Columbia have decided to ban any school bus driver from using a cell phone with passengers on board.


Washington D.C., 47 states, and Guam have decided to ban texting for every driver. In the majority of those states, texting is a primary offense.

Distracted Driving

There are several states that do not specify a ban on the use of cell phones, but add it to the ban on what is called ‘distracted driving.’ The states enacting this ban are Maine, Utah and New Hampshire.

Local Bans

A number of cities and towns have decided to ban certain kinds of mobile phone use when driving. In reply, several states have decided to enact laws prohibiting the ability of local jurisdictions to implement mobile phone ordinances.

Foreign Countries

There are multitudes of countries that previously enacted some kind of a ban on drivers using cell phones. The majority of these have decided to ban only the use of handheld mobile phones while driving.

Safety Considerations for Drivers Using Cell Phones

Even if your state does not impose mobile phone use restrictions while driving, all drivers should be cautious:

  • Do not make phone calls during bad weather or in heavy traffic situations.
  • Whenever possible, make your calls while your vehicle is stopped.
  • Keep your cell phone in an easily accessible area.
  • Program all your frequently used numbers into the phone.
  • If you can, ask your passenger to take or make the calls for you.
  • Never, write messages, look phone numbers up or take notes while you are driving, pull over instead.
  • Keep conversations at a minimum and do not discuss any emotionally charged topics.
  • If you do pull over, do so in a lighted area and always keep your doors locked.
  • If you have no choice but to dial while you are driving, hold your phone up so you can still see the road.