Distracted Driving Laws & Regulations Across the US



Distracted driving is defined as “anything that takes your eyes or mind off the road, or your hands off the steering wheel” and is usually applied specifically to cellphone/smartphone use, including talking on the phone and texting.

According to the latest statistics from the Department of Transportation, 3,477 people died as the result of texting or cell phone-related distracted driving in 2015. Additionally, another 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes caused by distracted drivers.

Given those sobering numbers, it’s easy to see why nearly all states across the U.S. have banned texting while driving. Here’s a brief overview of different rulings, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2017:

  • Hand-held Cell Phone Use Ban: 15 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving.
  • All Cell Phone ban: No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, but 38 states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by novice or teen drivers, and 21 states and D.C. prohibit any cell phone use for school bus drivers.
  • Text Messaging ban: 47 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers.
    • Missouri prohibits text messaging by novice or teen drivers.

    Now, let’s take a closer look at the distracted driving laws and regulations from the State of California, as those often set precedent for other states.

    Distracted Driving Laws & Regulations in California

    Distracted driving laws in California have had a tendency to affect laws in other states and for that reason California is a forerunner in navigating the legalities related to cell phone use in cars. [source]

    Using mobile phones while driving is regulated by California Vehicle Code, Division 11: Rules of the Road, Chapter 12: Public Offenses, Article 1: Driving Offenses; Sections 23123 to 23125. It contains four specific laws and regulations of which California drivers should be aware.

    California Vehicle Code, Section 23123:

    (a) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.

    (b) A violation of this section is an infraction punishable by a base fine of twenty dollars ($20) for a first offense and fifty dollars ($50) for each subsequent offense.

    (c) This section does not apply to a person using a wireless telephone for emergency purposes, including, but not limited to, an emergency call to a law enforcement agency, health care provider, fire department, or other emergency services agency or entity.

    (d) This section does not apply to an emergency services professional using a wireless telephone while operating an authorized emergency vehicle, as defined in Section 165, in the course and scope of his or her duties.

    (e) This section does not apply to a person driving a schoolbus or transit vehicle that is subject to Section 23125.

    (f) This section does not apply to a person while driving a motor vehicle on private property.

    California VC, Section 23123.5:

    (a) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or an electronic wireless communications device unless the wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device is specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation, and it is used in that manner while driving.

    (b) This section shall not apply to manufacturer-installed systems that are embedded in the vehicle.

    (c) A handheld wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device may be operated in a manner requiring the use of the driver’s hand while the driver is operating the vehicle only if both of the following conditions are satisfied:

    • The handheld wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device is mounted on a vehicle’s windshield in the same manner a portable Global Positioning System (GPS) is mounted pursuant to paragraph (12) of subdivision (b) of Section 26708 or is mounted on or affixed to a vehicle’s dashboard or center console in a manner that does not hinder the driver’s view of the road.
    • The driver’s hand is used to activate or deactivate a feature or function of the handheld wireless telephone or wireless communications device with the motion of a single swipe or tap of the driver’s finger.
    • A violation of this section is an infraction punishable by a base fine of twenty dollars ($20) for a first offense and fifty dollars ($50) for each subsequent offense.
    • This section does not apply to an emergency services professional using an electronic wireless communications device while operating an authorized emergency vehicle, as defined in Section 165, in the course and scope of his or her duties.
    • For the purposes of this section, “electronic wireless communications device” includes, but is not limited to, a broadband personal communication device, a specialized mobile radio device, a handheld device or laptop computer with mobile data access, a pager, or a two-way messaging device.

    California VC, Section 23124:

    This section of California Vehicle Code prohibits the use of communication devices even in hands free mode for drivers under 18.

    (a) This section applies to a person under the age of 18 years.

    (b) Notwithstanding Sections 23123 and 23123.5, a person described in subdivision (a) shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone or an electronic wireless communications device, even if equipped with a hands-free device.

    (c) A violation of this section is an infraction punishable by a base fine of twenty dollars ($20) for a first offense and fifty dollars ($50) for each subsequent offense.

    (d) A law enforcement officer shall not stop a vehicle for the sole purpose of determining whether the driver is violating subdivision (b).

    (e) Subdivision (d) does not prohibit a law enforcement officer from stopping a vehicle for a violation of Section 23123 or 23123.5.

    (f) This section does not apply to a person using a wireless telephone or a mobile service device for emergency purposes, including, but not limited to, an emergency call to a law enforcement agency, health care provider, fire department, or other emergency services agency or entity.

    (g) For the purposes of this section, “electronic wireless communications device” includes, but is not limited to, a broadband personal communication device, specialized mobile radio device, handheld device or laptop computer with mobile data access, pager, and two-way messaging device.

    California VC, Section 23125:

    The following section prohibits use of mobile phones for drivers of school buses or transit vehicles.

    (a) A person may not drive a schoolbus or transit vehicle, as defined in subdivision (g) of Section 99247 of the Public Utilities Code, while using a wireless telephone.

    (b) This section does not apply to a driver using a wireless telephone for work-related purposes, or for emergency purposes, including, but not limited to, an emergency call to a law enforcement agency, health care provider, fire department, or other emergency service agency or entity.

    (c) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a violation of subdivision (a) does not constitute a serious traffic violation within the meaning of subdivision (i) of Section 15210.

    Penalties for violating California’s distracted driving laws

    For their first offense, drivers that violate one of California’s distracted driving laws can expect a ticket for $75. Second offenses carry a $190 price tag. Additionally, breaking these laws is considered a moving violation and will go on your driving record. Under California’s point-based system, this means that you will acquire more points on your license, potentially leading to an increase in insurance rates and/or a suspended or revoked driver’s license.

    If you’re dealing with a distracted driving violation in California, an online traffic school, such as TrafficSchoolOnline.com, can help clean up your driving record. Find out more here.

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