Various laws in the United States regulate the use of mobile phones and other electronics by motorists. Different states take different approaches. Some laws affect only novice drivers or commercial drivers, while some laws affect all drivers. Some laws target handheld devices only, while other laws affect both handheld and handsfree devices.
The laws regulating driving (or distracted driving) may be subject to primary enforcement or secondary enforcement by state, county or local authorities. All State-level cell phone use laws in the United States are of the primary enforcement type—meaning an officer may cite a driver for using a hand-held cell phone without any other traffic offense having taken place—except in some cases involving newer (or "novice"), drivers. In the case of secondary enforcement, a police officer may only stop or cite a driver for a cell phone use violation if the driver has committed another primary violation (such as speeding, failure to stop, etc.) at the same time.
A federal transportation funding law passed in July 2012, known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), provided $17.5 million in grants during fiscal year 2013 for states with primary enforcement laws against distracted driving, including laws prohibiting cell phone use while driving. States with secondary enforcement laws or no laws at all are ineligible to receive this grant funding.
No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers. However, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia (plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands) prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Thirty-six states and Washington, D.C. ban all cell phone use by newer drivers, while 19 states and Washington, D.C., prohibit any cell phone use by school bus drivers if children are present.
|State||Total handheld device ban applied to:||Any cell phone use by driver prohibited if:||Bus driver use restriction(s)||Texting & Internet Access||Comment|
|Alabama||16 and under, and 17 w/ temporary license or if licensed under six months (primary violation)||texting prohibited (primary)|
|Alaska||totally prohibited||No restrictions on cell phone use|
|Arizona||All (primary violation)||texting prohibited||Arizona teen drivers who hold a Class G license are prohibited from using wireless communication devices, including mobile phones, while operating a vehicle during the permit and first six months of Class G phases. During an emergency in which stopping the vehicle is impossible or will create an additional emergency or safety hazard, use of a wireless communication device may be acceptable for a teen driver.|
|Arkansas||18–20 years old (primary violation)||under 18 (secondary violation)||totally prohibited||texting prohibited (primary)||Any cell phone use prohibited in school or construction zones (secondary violation).|
|California||All (primary violation)||under 18 (secondary violation)||totally prohibited (primary)||texting prohibited|
|Colorado||on learner's permit or under 18 (primary violation)||totally prohibited (primary)|
|Connecticut||All (primary violation)||under 18 (primary violation)||totally prohibited|
|Delaware||All (primary violation)||on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)||totally prohibited|
|Florida||School zones and active construction zones(primary)||Allowed only while stopped at a red light. Otherwise prohibited. (Primary)||Hands free earpieces can only be used in one ear.|
|Georgia||All Drivers (primary violation)||Under 18 (primary violation)||Driver totally prohibited unless used for routing communication||Driver totally prohibited, includes video||Driver Allowed to use hands free devices (specific ones) and voice to text with hands free devices and allowed to use permanent mounted GPS, Drivers are allowed to make emergency calls and report hazardous road conditions. Commercial Vehicle Drivers have limited use directly related to their work (GPS or Routing Communication) effective date 1 July 2018.|
|Guam||All (primary violation)|
|Hawaii||All (primary violation)||under 18 (primary violation)||totally prohibited||Statewide law entered into force July 2013; all counties had existing bans on cell phone use. Drivers 18 and older may use hands-free devices.|
|Idaho||All (primary violation)|
|Illinois||All (primary violation)||any driver under 19 (primary violation)||totally prohibited||Any cell phone use prohibited in school or construction zones or within 500 feet of an emergency scene (primary violation).|
|Indiana||All (primary violation)||A driver may not hold or handle their cell phone at any time while driving. Handsfree calls are permitted. Phone or other device may be used for navigation. However, handling phone to initiate call or navigation must be done before entering roadway. No touching/handling cell phone while driving/on-roadway is permitted, including while stopped at traffic signals.|
|Iowa||on restricted or intermediate license (primary violation)||totally prohibited (primary)||July 1, 2017 updated the texting law to be enforced as a primary reason an officer can stop a driver. "Texting" is defined as: texting, internet browsing, playing games, and reading social media applications.
If proven a driver was "texting" during a traffic fatality, it is deemed a Class C felony, and the driver can be put into prison for up to 10 years.
|Kansas||on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)|
|Kentucky||under 18 (primary violation)||totally prohibited|
|Louisiana||prohibited in school zones||on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)||totally prohibited||Effective since June 13, 2016.|
|Maine||all (primary violation)|
|Maryland||all (primary violation)||under 18 w/ restricted learner or intermediate license|
|Massachusetts||all (primary violation) as of February 2020||totally prohibited||Until February 2020, handheld cell phone use was allowed as long as one hand was on the wheel at all times. Since February 2020, law allows one tap to activate voice communication, and use of navigational touch screens are allowed if mounted on windshield or dashboard.|
|Michigan||all (primary violation) as of January 2022||totally prohibited|
|Minnesota||all (primary violation) as of 08/01/2019||under 18 w/ learner or provisional license (primary violation)||totally prohibited|
|Nebraska||under 18 w/ learner or intermediate license (secondary violation)|
|Nevada||all (primary violation)|
|New Hampshire||all (primary violation)||totally prohibited||Penalty Schedule:
|New Jersey||all (primary violation)||on permit or provisional license (primary violation).||totally prohibited||see Kyleigh's Law|
|New Mexico||Local Option by Jurisdiction||on learner or provisional license (primary violation)|
|New York||all (primary violation)|
|North Carolina||under 18 (primary violation)||totally prohibited||texting prohibited (Primary) Internet access okay|
|North Dakota||under 18 (primary violation)|
|Ohio||under 18 (primary violation)|
|Oklahoma||learner or intermediate license holder (primary violation)||totally prohibited||Texting/E-mail prohibited (primary)||See "Trooper Nicholas Dees and Trooper Keith Burch Act of 2015" (HB 1965)|
|Oregon||all (primary violation)||under 18 (primary violation)|
|Pennsylvania||$50 fine for texting while driving, but carries no points as a penalty and will not be recorded on the driver record for non-commercial drivers. However, it will be recorded on commercial drivers’ records as a non-sanction violation. The ban does not include the use of a GPS system, or any device that is physically integrated to a vehicle. Effective since March 8, 2012.|
|Puerto Rico||all (primary violation)|
|Rhode Island||all (primary violation) 06/01/2018||under 18 (primary violation)||totally prohibited|
|South Carolina||Totally prohibited, but officers must ascertain that a driver is texting rather than using the phone for another purpose.||Authorities can impose fines and track "distractions" on accident reports under Contributing Factors.|
|South Dakota||on learner or intermediate license (secondary violation)|
|Tennessee||All (primary violation)||on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)||totally prohibited||texting prohibited |
|Texas||Driving through school zones ||under 18 (primary violation)||totally prohibited||texting prohibited |
|Utah||under 18 (primary violation)||Regulated under distracted driving laws.|
|Vermont||all (primary violation)||under 18 (primary violation)||totally prohibited (primary)||GPS use of cell phone is allowed if the cell phone is securely mounted and not in the driver's hand
First offense shall be subject to a fine of $100 - $200
Second and subsequent offenses shall be subject to a fine of $250 - $500 if within a 2-year period
|Virgin Islands||all (primary violation)|
|Virginia||under 18 (primary violation) all (effective January 1, 2021)||under 18 (secondary violation) all (effective January 1, 2020)||totally prohibited||totally prohibited||Use of phone to talk is allowed, but text or email by the driver while vehicle is operational on state roads is prohibited. An exception exists for using GPS, dialing a number to make a call, or reporting an emergency. As of January 1, 2021, all handheld use of a phone will be prohibited. Exceptions allowed for when lawfully parked or stopped, emergency vehicles, reporting an emergency, using the radio, and traffic incident management workers.|
|Washington||all (primary violation)||on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)||Texting prohibited|
|Washington, D.C.||all (primary violation)||on learner permit (primary violation)||totally prohibited||totally prohibited|
|West Virginia||all (primary violation)||under 18 w/ learner or intermediate license (primary violation)|
|Wisconsin||Driving through construction zones||on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)||Texting prohibited|
|Wyoming||on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)|
Often, local authorities pass their own distracted driving bans—most include the use of cell phones while driving. Several states (Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma) have prohibited localities from enacting their own laws regarding cell phone use.
A 2014 report from the National Safety Council, which compiles data on injuries and fatalities from 2013 and earlier, concluded that use of mobile phones caused 26% of U.S. car accidents. Just 5% of mobile phone-related accidents in the U.S. involved texting: "The majority of the accidents involve drivers distracted while talking on handheld or hands-free cellphones."
The U.S. Department of Transportation has established an official website to combat distracted driving, Distraction.gov.
In 2010, the State Farm insurance company stated that mobile phone use annually resulted in: 636,000 crashes, 330,000 personal injuries, 12,000 major injuries, 2,700 deaths, and $43 billion in damages.
In 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released the following data - 2,841 lives lost due to distracted driving. Among those killed: 1,730 drivers, 605 passengers, 400 pedestrians and 77 bicyclists. The report clearly states, texting is the "most alarming distraction".
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