Keeping Up with New Laws on Distracted Driving

As a teen, I was attached to my cell phone. It was probably the most important thing to me, and this remained true even after I got my license and first car during my senior year.

Unfortunately, that attachment led to distracted driving. I was lucky enough to not have ever gotten into a car accident, but at any moment, I could have been that story you hear as a reason to not drive while texting. 

When I turned 21 and began living on my own, I started to truly comprehend the dangers of distracted driving while researching car insurance for a 21-year-old.  

Distractions Overshadow Important Facts of Life

Now, my phone is still a crucial tool in my life but instead of waking up to check texts from friends or likes on social media, I wake to check my calendar, emails, and other business correspondences.

As a younger individual, I had no true priorities in life so the truth of the shortness of life seemed inconsequential to me. 

This underestimation of life’s frailness is unfortunately common with many young drivers. Even with classes educating individuals on the dangers of driving while distracted, some still will not grasp the severity.

One can assume this is because they have yet to experience life’s fragility yet. 

Teens and Distracted Driving

Distracted driving being a huge problem for teenagers in America is one of many reasons why distracted driving laws are in place. Teenagers are often the ones who are the most distracted while driving as they are so addicted to their phones.

Since some younger drivers (and even older drivers) are not mature enough to make wiser decisions while driving, there are laws in place that penalize these individuals. 

Understanding Distracted Driving Laws

Consider this: 2,841 lives were taken because of distracted driving in 2018 alone, according to the NHTSA. Distracted driving laws have been implemented in an attempt to control and minimize the instances where drivers become distracted while operating their vehicles. 

These laws are created with the intent of minimizing car accidents and deaths caused by car accidents due to distracted driving. 

A person being distracted while driving is one of three critical errors that contribute to half of the car accidents that involve teenagers. This is one of the reasons car insurance rates are significantly higher when younger individuals are operating the covered vehicle.

Increasing insurance rates are one of the ways that insurance providers help reduce distracted driving.

State with Laws Against Distracted Driving

Currently, there are 21 states that have established laws against hand-held cell phone usage. Banned cell phone usage for school bus drivers is in 20 states, and 39 states have banned cell phone use for newer drivers.

Although some cities have distracted driving regulations, some states have preemption laws that prohibit smaller jurisdictions from implementing their own regulations for distracted driving.

The following states have such laws:

  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Florida
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Pennsylvania
  • Nevada
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Oregon

The Biggest Driving Distraction: Texting

Did you know that texting and driving laws are only 13 years old? The first state to regulate texting while driving was Washington in 2007. That first law in Washington State started a ripple effect that has since led to 47 other states implementing texting while driving bans. 

Aside from those 48 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands have also banned texting while driving. There are only three of these areas that do not allow police officers to ticket violators without any other traffic offense taking place first. 

This all has led to police officers finding creative alternatives to enforce distracted driving laws.

However, there is actually more to distracted driving than just texting. Distracted driving is any activity that pulls a driver’s attention away from operating a vehicle. 

This includes both talking and texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to other people in your car, changing the radio station, or even altering navigation systems or any other entertainment system.

Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Laws and Distracted Driving

Graduated Driver Licensing (or GDL) provisions have begun including distracted driving restrictions as an attempt to help diminish instances of distracted driving. These provisions are directed to those who have recently obtained their license, like teen drivers. 

Because of these provisions, thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have placed bans on new drivers using a cell phone while operating their vehicles. In addition, forty-six states including the District of Columbia implement limits on passengers during the intermediate license phase.  

New Distracted Driving Laws in Your Area

Honestly, it can be hard keeping up with all of the laws associated with being an upstanding citizen because they vary widely based on where you live. This variation extends to include all the rules concerning driving.

I live in Atlanta, Georgia, but I am originally from a small town in California. Visiting family in California became a bit more challenging for me when I began driving because some laws were different from Georgia’s.

Recently, Georgia made it illegal to even hold your phone while driving. The hands-free law (HB673) became effective July 1, 2018, pursuant to 40-6-241(c). The law states that all individuals operating a motor vehicle on any highway in Georgia must not hold or support a telecommunications device with any part of their body.

So the law not only prohibits you from holding a phone with your hands but keeps you from having it on or between your legs. Violators will pay $50 for the first conviction, $100 for the second, and $150 and/or other punishments for the third and subsequent acts. 

Georgia was the 16th state in the United States to implement a hands-free driving law but the hands-free driving laws are not all the same. Some states have stricter laws while others are more lenient.

This goes to show just how fast laws can change and how they can vary from state to state which makes it difficult to keep track of what’s right.

Driving Distracted Isn’t Worth It

Some states only convict against texting while driving, while some states punish drivers for just holding a cellphone while driving.

In some states, all cell phone usage is punishable, and some (though few) do not punish drivers for using their phones at all. 

The variations from state to state make it crucial for drivers to keep up with the driving laws for any state they are driving in — even if it is just for vacation. 

You can keep track of each state’s distracted driving laws and their enforcement type from GHSA, a nonprofit organization with the goal of “representing the state and territorial highway safety offices that implement federal grant programs to address behavioral highway safety issues.”

However, no matter what the laws are for your state or town, you should never drive distracted. Not only is it illegal in most places, but being distracted while behind the driver’s seat is just plain dangerous.