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Texting and Driving Laws in Different States



The evidence is clear: Texting while driving is dangerous and even deadly. In fact, any kind of distraction—from eating behind the wheel to putting on makeup, from talking with passengers to fiddling with a GPS unit—increases the likelihood that a driver will be involved in an accident.

According to Distraction.gov, the federal government website dedicated to reducing distracted driving:

  • Distracted drivers were involved in almost 420,000 automobile accidents in 2010 and 3,092 people were killed in those accidents.
  • Texting while driving increases your risk of crashing by 2300 percent.
  • Distracted driving was a factor in 11 percent of all fatal crashes involving drivers under the age of 20.

Distracted Driving Laws Across the Country

Text messaging celebrated its 20th birthday in December 2012, but has only come into widespread use in recent years. Although many states have passed laws banning texting while driving, some states' laws still haven't caught up with the technology. As of 2012:

  • Drivers are prohibited from using handheld cell phones in 10 states, plus Washington, D.C., Guam and the Virgin Islands. In most states, there is primary enforcement of these laws, meaning a police officer may pull over and ticket a driver who is using a cell phone. (In Maryland and West Virginia, a police officer may only ticket a driver for using a cell phone if the driver is stopped for another reason.)
  • Novice drivers (usually those under a certain age or with certain types of drivers' licenses) are banned from using cell phones while driving in 32 states plus Washington, D.C.
  • Nineteen states and Washington, D.C., ban school bus drivers from using cell phones if passengers are on the bus.
  • It is illegal for drivers to engage in text messaging in 39 states, plus Washington, D.C., Guam and the Virgin Islands. In most states there is primary enforcement of this law. Five additional states ban novice drivers from text messaging behind the wheel.

In California, for example, there is a ban on the use of handheld cell phones while driving, and school bus drivers as well as drivers under the age of 18 are barred from using any type of cell phone while driving. Additionally, all drivers are banned from text messaging from behind the wheel. All of these are primary offenses.

In Texas, on the other hand, there's no ban on the use of handheld cell phones except when a driver is in a school zone. There is, however, a ban on the use of cell phones by school bus drivers who have passengers who are under the age of 18 as well as drivers who have had a driver's license for less than a year. Text messaging is also banned for all drivers in school zones, as well as school bus drivers and novice drivers.

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