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States With The Harshest Penalties For Texting And Driving

By Aaron Crowe

Texting and driving isn’t banned in Hawaii, but travel 3,000 miles north to Alaska, and it’s a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and a year in prison.

That’s the biggest discrepancy between states in texting punishments. Most states fine drivers for texting from $20 to $100 or so, according to an analysis by DMV.com, a website that isn’t affiliated with any government agencies.

“I guess it’s just how serious they think the issue is,” says J.P. Zeni, the website’s owner, on why states differ so much in how much they fine offenders.

Bans also differ by state on the use of hand-held devices — which states such as California allow if the phone is hands-free — and on banning all passengers from texting.

Texting while driving is the leading cause of death among teens — killing 11 teens per day — overtaking drunk driving deaths among teens, according to a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Texting is responsible for nearly 25% of all car accidents and 330,000 injuries per year, making drivers 23 times more likely to crash.

Four states don’t ban it at all: Hawaii, Arizona, South Carolina and Montana. A few ban only young drivers: Missouri bans drivers younger than 21; and Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas either ban learner’s permit and provisional license holders, or drivers under 18.

The rest of the country bans texting while driving for all drivers, with fines ranging from $20 in California to $750 in Utah. In Alaska, killing someone while texting and driving is a felony punishable by up to $250,000 in fines and 20 years in prison.

There isn’t a national standard and it’s unlikely there will be one, says John Bowman, a spokesman for the National Motorists Association, a drivers’ rights organization.

“In once sense, it would be helpful if there were a national standard in place since drivers who travel a lot would know what to expect from one state to the next,” Bowman says. “However, the chances of ever putting a national standard in place are pretty slim, since the federal government generally leaves traffic enforcement up to the states.”

Bans have been shown to be ineffective, he says, citing a report by the Highway Loss Data Institute that focused on texting laws in California, Minnesota, Washington and Louisiana, and found that the laws didn’t lower insurance claims related to car accidents, but increased them.

“Rather than focusing more on laws and more enforcement, the NMA would like to see more emphasis put on public education that covers all types of distracted driving,” Bowman says. “This is the kind of initiative that could be rolled out nationwide with many positive safety benefits.”

Walking while using a cellphone is difficult enough, and using one while trying to be aware of all of the other distractions while driving is too difficult for the best multi-taskers, says Steve Dziadik, who owns a driving school in Florida.

“It’s not the obvious that you think of,” Dziadik says of distractions while driving. “Very often it’s many of the things that you do.”

They include looking for stores while driving, having ketchup from a hamburger you’re eating drop in your lap, or turning to talk to a passenger in the back seat — anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road.

Dziadik says he teaches student drivers how to be aware of their surroundings and to identify everything that can be a problem: a pedestrian at a corner, kids playing basketball, blind spots and everything else on the road.

No text or voice message is as important as driving safely, says Dziadik, who recommends putting a phone on silent mode, pulling to the side of the road to use it, or putting it in the trunk.

“If you can leave your phone home, do it,” he says.
Below is a chart regarding texting while driving laws:

Distracted Driving Penalties
State Penalty Ban Demerit Points
Alabama $25 fine All drivers

2

Alaska $10,000 fine and one year in prison All drivers
Arizona No ban
Arkansas $100 fine and 10 days in prison All drivers
California $20 fine All drivers
Colorado $50 fine All drivers

1

Connecticut $100 fine All drivers
Delaware $50 fine All drivers
D.C. $100 fine All drivers

1

Florida $30 1st time / $60 2nd Secondary Offence
Georgia $150 fine All drivers
Guam $100 fine All drivers
Hawaii No ban
Idaho $81.50 All drivers
Illinois $75 fine All drivers
Indiana $35.50 fine All drivers
Iowa $30 fine All drivers
Kansas $60 fine All drivers
Kentucky $25 fine plus surcharge fees All drivers
Louisiana $175 fine All drivers
Maine $250-500 fine All drivers
Maryland $500 fine All drivers
Massachusetts $100 fine All drivers
Michigan $100 fine All drivers
Minnesota $135 fine All drivers
Mississippi $500 fine School bus drivers, learner's permit and provisional license holders
Missouri $20.50 fine Drivers younger than 21
Montana No ban
Nebraska $200 fine All drivers

3

Nevada $50 fine All drivers
New Hampshire $100 fine All drivers
New Jersey $100 fine All drivers
New Mexico Drivers younger than 18 or with learner/provisional license
New York $235 fine All drivers

3

North Carolina $100 fine plus surcharge fees All drivers
North Dakota $100 fine All drivers
Ohio $150 fine All drivers
Oklahoma $100 fine Learner's permit or intermediate license holders
Oregon $250 fine All drivers
Pennsylvania $50 fine All drivers
Puerto Rico $50 fine All drivers
Rhode Island $85 fine All drivers
South Carolina No ban
South Dakota Learner's permit or intermediate license holders
Tennessee $50 fine All drivers
Texas Drivers younger than 18
Utah $750 fine plus 90 days in prison All drivers
Vermont $156 fine All drivers

2

Virgin Islands All drivers
Virginia $20 fine All drivers
Washington $124 fine All drivers
West Virginia $100 fine All drivers
Wisconsin $20-$400 fine All drivers

4

Wyoming $75 fine All drivers

Data provided by DMV.com