How the U.S. Is Tackling Distracted Driving Fatalities

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How the U.S. Is Tackling Distracted Driving Fatalities (Photo: @jeremymthomas via Twenty20)
The nation’s roadways see thousands of fatalities directly tied to distracted driving. Many states have implemented new laws to fight this increase in accidents and fatalities, including efforts to cut down the use of handheld devices while driving and eliminating texting altogether. Here’s a look at distracted driving, state laws for texting and driving, and what specific states are doing to combat distracted driving.

What is distracted driving?

Experts define distracted driving as any time a driver focuses their attention on something else other than driving. Some common forms of distracted driving include:
  • Applying makeup or brushing your hair
  • Using a handheld device to text or send an email
  • Using a handheld device to take a picture
  • Looking at a map or GPS device
  • Utilizing an app on a handheld device while driving
  • Changing the radio or CD player
  • Reaching for an object that requires you to remove your eyes from the road ahead
  • Engaging in a conversation with a passenger or on a cell phone while driving

Laws and penalties for cell phone use and texting while driving by state

The following table gives information on which states allow use of handheld devices while driving, according to information from the Governors Highway Safety Association, as well as the penalties the states impose.
Cell Phone and Texting Restrictions by State
State Cell Phone Handheld Use Ban Text Messaging While Driving Ban Penalties for Cell Phone Use and Texting While Driving (as of 7-2017)
Alabama No All drivers First offense: $25 fine; second offense: $50 fine; subsequent offenses: $75 fine
Alaska No All drivers Charged with a misdemeanor if no accident. Charged with a felony if an accident with injury.
Arizona No Only for permit holders under 18 No penalty.
Arkansas Drivers 18 to 20 All drivers Up to a $100 fine.
California Yes All drivers First offense: $20 fine; subsequent offenses: $50 fine.
Colorado No All drivers First offense: $56 fine; Subsequent offense: $106 fine.
Connecticut Yes All drivers First offense: $125 fine; subsequent offenses: $250 fine.
Delaware Yes All drivers First offense: $106 fine; subsequent offenses: up to a $350 fine.
D.C. Yes All drivers Fine of $100.
Florida No All drivers Fine of $30.
Georgia No All drivers Fine of $150 plus one point on driving record.
Hawaii Yes All drivers First offense: $200 fine; second offense (within same year) $300 fine.
Idaho No All drivers Fines start at $85 for the first offense.
Illinois Yes All drivers Fines start at $75 for a first offense.
Indiana No All drivers Fine ranges from $35 to $500.
Iowa No All drivers Fine of $30, or up to $1,000 for causing a serious accident while texting.
Kansas No All drivers Fine of $60.
Kentucky No All drivers First offense: $25 plus court costs; subsequent offenses: $50 plus court costs.
Louisiana Drivers with permits, regardless of age All drivers First offense: $175 fine; subsequent offenses: $500 fine.
Maine No All drivers First offense: $100 fine; fines increase for subsequent offenses.
Maryland Yes All drivers Fine ranges from $40 to $100.
Massachusetts No All drivers First offense: $100 fine; subsequent offenses: $250 fine.
Michigan No All drivers First offense: $100 fine; subsequent offenses: $200 fine.
Minnesota No All drivers Fines up to $300 per offense.
Mississippi No All drivers Fine of $500 for a first time offender.
Missouri No Drivers 21 and under Fine of $20.50.
Montana No No No penalty.
Nebraska No All drivers First offense: $200 fine; second offense: $300 fine; subsequent offenses: $500 fine.
Nevada Yes All drivers First offense: $50 fine; second offense (within seven years): $100 fine; subsequent offenses (within seven years): $250 fine.
New Hampshire Yes All drivers $100 fine.
New Jersey Yes All drivers $100 fine.
New Mexico In-state vehicles All drivers First offense: $25 fine; subsequent offenses: $50 fine.
New York Yes All drivers Fine of $150 plus mandatory fees up to $85.
North Carolina No All drivers Novice drivers: $25 fine; adult drivers: $100 fine.
North Dakota No All drivers Fine of $100.
Ohio No All drivers Up to $150 fine. Up to a $300 fine for novice drivers.
Oklahoma Drivers with permits All drivers Suspended or revoked driver's license.
Oregon Yes All drivers Fine of $142.
Pennsylvania No All drivers Fine of $50.
Rhode Island No All drivers First offense: $85 fine; second offense: $100 fine; subsequent offenses: $125 fine.
South Carolina No. All drivers Fine amount varies by county.
South Dakota No. All drivers Fine of $100.
Tennessee No. All drivers Fine of $50 plus court costs (not to exceed $10).
Texas No. Banned in school zones All drivers No penalty.
Utah No All drivers Fine of $750 and/or jail time of up to three months.
Vermont Yes All drivers First offense: $100 fine; subsequent offenses (within two years): $250 fine
Virginia No All drivers First offense: $125 fine; subsequent offenses: $250 fine.
Washington Yes All drivers First offense: $124 fine.
West Virginia Yes All drivers First offense: $25 fine; second offenses: $50 fine; subsequent offenses: $75 fine.
Wisconsin No All drivers Fine of $20 to $400, and up to four points on driving record.
Wyoming No All drivers Up to a $75 fine.
Source: [Governors Highway Safety Association](http://www.ghsa.org/state-laws/issues/Distracted-Driving)

What else are states doing to combat distracted driving?

With distracted driving being such a hot topic, drivers can expect states to impose more laws banning various distractions while operating a motor vehicle. Some of the more prominent changes in various state laws in recent years include:
  • Social media use: The states of Washington and Arkansas changed distracted driving to include handheld device use to access sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
  • Increased fines: Many states, such as Arkansas, the District of Columbia, North Dakota, and Washington, increased the fines for texting while driving. In addition, fines in these states double if you have an accident while texting.
  • Primary offense: Making distracted driving a primary offense represents another step that many states have taken recently to combat distracted driving. With a primary offense, law enforcement officials can pull a driver over for merely texting while driving. In states that consider texting while driving a secondary offense, law enforcement must first pull the driver over for another offense before they can write a ticket for distracted driving.
  • Education programs: States such as Virginia have implemented educational activities, in the form of DRIVE SMART Virginia, to educate the public on safe driving issues, including distracted driving.
In order to reduce distracted driving fatalities and injuries on roads and highways, states have enacted laws banning such practices as using handheld devices and texting while driving, as well as other activities that take a driver’s attention off of the road.