What States Have the Strictest Distracted Driving Laws?
Distracted driving claimed 3,166 lives in 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Along with those deaths, there were around 391,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted driving in 2015.
Drivers today face more potential distractions from technology, so the number of deaths and injuries from distracted driving are likely to continue to rise. States are enacting strict laws to combat distracted driving, and some are more stringent than others.
The following provides key information about distracted driving, including statistics, as well as an overview of the states with the strictest distracted driving laws.
What Is Distracted Driving?
Anytime you’re driving, and something causes you to take your attention from the road, it’s distracted driving. Legally that might not be the case, but otherwise, it is.
Distracted driving examples include texting while driving, using your navigation or GPS, and eating while driving. Even dealing with your kids while you’re driving is technically considered distracted driving.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes texting while driving as particularly dangerous because it’s all three types of distraction. You’re taking your eyes off the road for around five seconds when you’re reading or sending a text. The CDC points out that five seconds if you’re going 55 mph, it is long enough to cover the length of a football field.
Some of the risk factors for distracted driving to take place include:
- Drivers under the age of 20 tend to have the highest proportion of crashes that are fatal and related to distracted driving
- Around 9% of all teen vehicle crashes in 2017 involved distracted driving
- High school students who say they text while driving are also less likely to wear a seatbelt, and more likely to drink and drive, based on CDC statistics
States are putting in place a number of laws aimed at combating distracted driving. For example, with teen drivers, they are using graduated driver’s license systems. As of March 2019, 16 states, as well as the District of Columbia, had banned people from using hand-held devices while driving.
Also as of March 2019, 47 states had enacted bans on texting while driving. There are also local governmental laws regarding the use of phones and texting while behind the wheel.
There are laws at the federal level too. For example, in 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration put in place a ban on texting while driving for commercial vehicle drivers.
What Are the Penalties for Texting While Driving?
In most places, texting while driving is considered a moving traffic violation, and in some jurisdictions, it’s a criminal misdemeanor.
The fines can range anywhere from $20 to $500 if you’re caught texting while driving, but in some states, you might receive a Class B or C misdemeanor charge. If your texting while driving cause bodily harm to someone else, you may get prison time.
In most states, the more you’re caught texting while driving, the more severe the punishments become.
When you’re caught texting while driving, you may also get points on your driving record, you may have your license suspended or you could be required to take road safety classes.
Only Arizona and Montana don’t have restrictions on texting while driving currently. Many states have relatively lenient laws, as well.
For example, in Mississippi, there is only a ban against texting and driving for people with their intermediate license or learner’s permit. In Missouri, the texting ban only applies to drivers who are 21 and younger, and in Oklahoma, it applies to people with their learner’s permit or intermediate license, school bus drivers, and public transit drivers.
What States Have the Strictest Distracted Driving Laws?
There was recently an analysis from a law firm to discover which states have the strictest driving laws. Oregon was number one of all the states according to their findings. For a first-time offense of distracted driving or using your cell phone while driving, you can get a fine of up to $1,000.
Oregon moved to strengthen their distracted driving laws in 2017, by closing a potential loophole and raising fines.
Second-time distracted driving offenses can mean up to a $2,000 fine, as can an offense that leads to a crash or contributes to one.
If you are in Oregon and you get three distracted driving citations in a 10-year period, you can be fined up to $2,500 and also get six months in jail.
Another state with strict distracted driving laws is Illinois. In Illinois, you can’t use a phone at all while you’re in a school zone or construction zone. You can’t text while driving either, and if you violate the law you could get a fine of $120. The fine can be even higher if you’re caught in a school or work zone.
In Massachusetts, state lawmakers passed a bill that banned the use of all handheld devices while driving. The fines can go up to $500 for three-time offenders, and you also get insurance surcharges.
Specifically, in Massachusetts, you can only do a single tap or swipe, which is presumably to allow you to activate your hands-free mode.
New York saw an increase in distracted driving tickets of 918% from 2011 to 2016. You can get a fine of up to $150 in New York for texting while driving, and if you violate the ban on hand-held devices, it can be a penalty of $100.
If you’re someone who thinks you can get around the laws by only using your phone while you’re at a stoplight, Washington state is cracking down on that too. Recently, Washington lawmakers created closed a legal loophole by banning the use of electronic devices at stoplights.
In Washington, there are also laws against putting on make-up and eating while driving. If you’re caught doing any of these things, you can get a $136 ticket as a first-time offender and a $234 ticket if you’re a repeat offender.
These offenses are also reported to your insurance company and are posted on your driving record.