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Texting While Driving: Rules Per State

Texting is pretty, or constant use of a smartphone has pretty much become an obsession with some people, and it’s not just teenagers. The addiction has taken to the road, with distracted drivers texting, emailing and surfing the web all while driving. Who hasn’t looked over at another driver who seems to be driving erratically only to notice they are interacting with their cell phone? Currently there is no federal ban on texting or cell phone use while driving, but many states are stepping in to try and curb the epidemic.

In 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that 6,000 fatalities and more than 500,000 injuries were caused by distracted drivers, not specifically cited were the exact distractions, but it is presumed that cell phone usage distractions did contribute. Some states are almost at the verge of total cell phone usage while driving bans. Per the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, no state has a full ban, but 32 states and the District of Columbia do ban cell phone use by novice drivers, this includes hand free devices. The definition of novice driver varies by state.  Some states have it as aged based, such as under 18, some based on newly licensed or learner’s permit regardless of age. School bus drivers in 19 states and D.C. may not use a cell phone with passengers on board.  There are states that will only enforce illegal usage if it is part of a larger offense.

For example, a driver may be texting and driving, and be seen by an office but will not be pulled over. If that same driver ran a stop sign and it was determined that they were also texting, then they would be cited for both offenses. Maine, New Hampshire and Utah, states that treat usage as such, meaning the infraction is not primary. There are full on handheld bans in some states. 10 states, DC, Guam and the Virgin islands ban all handheld cell phone use, and the offense is primary, they see you they can stop you, Maryland and West Virginia have the ban but are not primary until July of 2013, which is just a technicality. Fines vary from state to state but can be $50 to $1,000.  If coupled with another violation or accident, the cost could be in the thousands, and add points to the driver’s record for years. Utah is one of the toughest states, with a $10,000 possible fine and jail time if texting while driving results in injury or death. Many other states also treat it as a crime when an injury or death occurs, such as California and Massachusetts. Instead of trying to understand what the law is in your state, just avoid cell phone use while driving all together.

Since enforcing the ban is nearly impossible, driver awareness programs as well as physical road implements have been created to alert the distracted driver. Edgeline and centerline rumble strips are on many highways to alert the driver when they are weaving in their lane. Constant flashing billboards exist in states such as Massachusetts advising of the ban of use for young drivers, and the fine that exists for all drivers. Continued study of the impact of the dangers of texting can help contribute to eliminating the problem. Knowledge of how and why it is happening can help to prevent it. Cell jammers have been considered but could interfere with neighboring legitimate cell phone use and emergency use on the roads the jammers may be placed. Until there is a legitimate solution to the problem, only driver willpower will curb the epidemic of texting while driving.