Restrictions on cell phone use while driving in the United States

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Cell phone use is regulated by local ordinance during certain hours in Houston, Texas

Regulatory laws in the United States have placed numerous restrictions on cell phone use by drivers. Individual States have jurisdictional discretion over the use of cell phones and other handheld devices used by drivers on their roads. Many of the resultant laws target novice drivers, while others focus on the use of handsfree devices. The enforcement of the regulations vary widely in degree from state to state, from significant to none; from primary to secondary violations.

Regulatory laws[edit]

The laws regulating driving (or distracted driving) may be subject to primary enforcement or secondary enforcement by state, county or local authorities.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3][4]

Laws by state[edit]

No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers. However, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, 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. 36 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 while children are present.[2]

Table: Cell Phone Restrictions While Driving in the US and Territories[5]
State Total handheld device ban applied to: Any cell phone use by driver prohibited if: Bus driver use restriction(s) Comment
Alabama 16 and under, and, 17 w/ temporary license or if licensed under 6 months (primary violation)
Alaska No restrictions reported.
Arizona totally prohibited
Arkansas 18–20 years old (primary violation) under 18 (secondary violation) totally prohibited Any cell phone use prohibited in school or construction zones (secondary violation).
California All (primary violation)[6] under 18 (secondary violation)[7] totally prohibited
Colorado on learner's permit or under 18 (primary violation)[6]
Connecticut All (primary violation) under 18 (primary violation) totally prohibited
Delaware All (primary violation) on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)[6] totally prohibited
Florida Cell phone use allowed while operating a car as long as the sound goes through only one ear.[6]
Georgia under 18 (primary violation) totally prohibited
Guam All (primary violation)
Hawaii All (primary violation)[8] 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.[8]
Idaho No state-wide laws enacted; authorities track "distractions" on accident reports.
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).[9]
Indiana under 18 (primary violation)
Iowa on restricted or intermediate license (primary violation)
Kansas on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)
Kentucky under 18 (primary violation) totally prohibited
Louisiana learner or intermediate license holder (regardless of age) (primary violation) 1st year of license (primary violation if under 18) totally prohibited
Maine under 18 (primary violation) under 18 w/ learner or provisional license (secondary violation)[6]
Maryland all (secondary violation)[10] under 18 w/ restricted learner or intermediate license[6]
Massachusetts under 18 (primary violation) totally prohibited Cell phone use allowed as long as one hand is on the wheel at all times.[6]
Michigan level-1 or level-2 license (primary violation)
Minnesota under 18 w/ learner or provisional license (primary violation)[6] totally prohibited
Mississippi totally prohibited
Montana None.
Nebraska under 18 w/ learner or intermediate license (secondary violation)
Nevada all (primary violation)[11]
New Hampshire Cell phone use regulated under comprehensive Distracted Driving laws. (Cell phone use while driving is not forbidden; but user fined if it is a contributing factor.)[6]
New Jersey all (primary violation)[12] on permit or provisional license (primary violation).[6] totally prohibited
New Mexico all state owned and Driver's Ed vehicles (primary violation)[6] on learner or provisional license (primary violation)
New York all (primary violation)[13]
North Carolina under 18 (primary violation) totally prohibited
North Dakota under 18 (primary violation)
Ohio under 18 (primary violation)[14]
Oklahoma learner or intermediate license holder (primary violation) totally prohibited
Oregon all (primary violation) under 18 (primary violation)[6]
Pennsylvania No state laws enacted.[6]
Puerto Rico all (primary violation)
Rhode Island under 18 (primary violation)[6] totally prohibited
South Carolina Authorities can impose fines and track "distractions" on accident reports under Contributing Factors.
South Dakota
Tennessee on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)[6] totally prohibited
Texas on intermediate license, for first 12 mos. (primary violation) w/ passenger(s) 17 or younger (primary violation) No handheld phone or device use allowed in school zones.
Utah Regulated under distracted driving laws.[6]
Vermont under 18 (primary violation) You are no longer able to use any handheld phone while driving.[15]
Virgin Islands all (primary violation)
Virginia under 18 (primary violation)[6] under 18 (secondary violation)[6] totally prohibited
Washington all (primary violation)[6] on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)
Washington, D.C. all (primary violation) on learner permit (primary violation)[6] totally prohibited
West Virginia all (secondary violation) (until July 31, 2013) under 18 w/ learner or intermediate license (primary violation)
Wisconsin on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)
Wyoming on learner or intermediate license (primary violation)[6]

Preemption Laws[edit]

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 preemption laws.[2]

Cost of distracted driving[edit]

Distracted driving (talking, texting, etc.) are killing people—6,000 every year, with more than 500,000 injured.[16]

The State Farm Insurance company reports that the annual cost of distracted driving due to cell phone use alone is:[17]

  • 636,000 crashes
  • 330,000 personal injuries
  • 12,000 major injuries
  • 2,700 deaths, and
  • US$43 billion in damages

See also[edit]

Texting while driving


  1. ^ State Laws; "Government: Get the Facts;" retrieved April 2013
  2. ^ a b c Cellphone Laws; GHSA on line; retrieved April 30, 2013
  3. ^ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) (August 22, 2012), U.S. Department of Transportation Announces New Federal Grant Program to Help States Fight Distracted Driving, retrieved August 30, 2013 
  4. ^ American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) (August 24, 2012), "States Vie for New Federal Funding to Help End Distracted Driving", AASHTO Journal, retrieved August 30, 2013 
  5. ^ Cell Phone Driving Bans...; PC World; retrieved May 01, 2013
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Cell Phone Driving Laws by State; article; Let's Talk; retrieved May 01, 2013
  7. ^ Cell Phones and Driving in California;; retrieved May 01, 2013
  8. ^ a b Busek, Amy (May 21, 2013), "Law bans driver's use of cellphone", Honolulu Star-Advertiser, retrieved July 22, 2013  (subscription required)
  9. ^ Cell Phone Laws; Insurance institute for Highway Safety; retrieved April 2013
  10. ^ New Bill Makes Talking On Handheld Cell Phone While Driving Primary Offense; March 03, 2013 article; CBS Baltimore; retrieved May 01, 2013
  11. ^ Handheld Cell Phone Ban; Nevada DOT online; retrieved May 01, 2013
  12. ^ [The New Jersey Driver Manual]
  13. ^ Cell Phone; NYS: Department of Motor Vehicles on line; retrieved April 2013
  14. ^ Ticketing begins on state law prohibiting cellphone use by young drivers: Road Rant; February 28, 2013 article; by John Horton; at The Plain Dealer; retrieved April 2013
  15. ^
  16. ^ Pilot program aims to make roads safer in Hartford, Syracuse and across America; April 08, 2010 article; USDT's Fastlane; retrieved May 2013
  17. ^ Cell Phone Use While Driving; State Farm – Learning Center; retrieved May 01, 2013

Further reading[edit]