Distracted driving laws are becoming more and more widespread and for good reason. According to the National Safety Council, 23 percent of car crashes, or 1.3 million per year, are caused by phone calls or texting. Phone use was involved in 3,092 highway deaths, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates.
“No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said in a press release last week. “It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving.”
Many states already have laws in place against certain cell phone uses behind the wheel, and more are expected to follow the NTSB recommendation. How can you avoid a ticket for improper cell phone use? Easy. Know your state and local laws, and follow them. If you have to make a call, find a safe place to pull over, or let a passenger handle the phone.
Know Before You Go
In the last five years, laws against distracted driving have proliferated around the country.
- Nine states as well as Washington, D.C. ban handheld cellphone use while driving.
- Twenty-six states ban only text messaging while driving.
- No states have total bans on hands-free calls, although many do have special restrictions for school bus drivers and inexperienced drivers.
- Thirty states plus D.C. ban phone use outright for inexperienced drivers (definition of inexperienced varies by state.)
Local ordinances may be more restrictive than state laws. Please see the Governors Highway Safety Association site for detailed information about your state.
The Most Expensive Text Message You’ll Ever Send
While in most states distracted driving laws are primary offenses, meaning police can pull you over for phone use alone, officers will often look for people whose driving is clearly affected. “A lot of times what’s going on is erratic operation,” says Boston attorney Jason Chan. “Weaving, crossing lines, blowing stop signs, situations where a person is about to hit another car and stops short.”
Young drivers especially need to be careful because they are singled out in so many laws. “Anybody who is young they’ll typically look at,” Chan explains. “They’ll run the plates to see who it’s registered to. If the car owner is female and the driver looks like a young male, it could be mom’s car or something of that nature.”
Penalties vary greatly by state:
- In California, fines plus penalties for violating cell phone laws are $76 for first offense, $190 for all subsequent offenses.
- Massachusetts fines escalate from $100 to $500.
- Some states dock points off your license, which can lead to more expensive insurance bills and eventual license suspension, while others assess a fine only.
Handsfreeinfo.com has a detailed list of various fines and penalties by state.
How To Fight a Ticket
If you do get pulled over, remain calm. “Be polite as possible—officers do tend to write those things down,” Chan says. “Be careful of the statement you make. Obviously, anything you say can be used against you in court.”
If an officer witnesses a driver manipulating a phone, a defendant in a state banning handheld use may be out of luck. “It’s usually pretty difficult to fight,” says Chan. “A lot of his word against yours.”
However, in states that only ban texting, drivers might argue they were dialing, not sending a text. “It doesn’t look that good in court anyway, looking at the phone to dial,” Chan says. “But it can be a good argument to make.”
Documents from the phone carrier can show if a person was talking on the phone or texting. “We’ve been seeing a lot of people bringing in their cell phone records,” the lawyer says. “They would show if they were actually on the phone.”
Driving Laws by State
For the purposes of the charts, laws are interpreted in the most conservative manner— states that have blanket texting bans that include but don’t necessarily single out younger drivers are considered restricted in the “inexperienced driver” map. Hawaii does not actually have a state law regarding phone use but every county in the state bans distracted driving, which includes handheld use and texting for youth and adults. Please see the Governors Highway Safety Association site for detailed information about your state.
By: Aaron Kase
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