Important Cell Phone Driving Laws by State and Territory

Use these cell phone driving laws to support an insurance claim in your state. You’re entitled to compensation for injuries caused by a distracted driver.

Distracted driving is a deadly and persistent problem throughout the United States.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 2,841 people were killed and 400,000 more were injured in distracted driving-related crashes in only one year.¹

States have set down laws to curb distracted driving. In addition to keeping you and your family safe, following state law regarding cell phone use will also prevent you from getting traffic tickets, incurring hefty fines, or possibly losing your license. (California, for example, will begin assessing points for multiple cell phone law violations starting in 2021.)

If you are unlucky enough to be injured in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, you’ll need to know the law. Read on for a discussion of state driving laws regarding handheld cell phones, text messaging, and restrictions for novice drivers.

Comparison of Cell Phone Driving Laws by State

The Governors Highway Safety Association , the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have compiled cell phone traffic laws in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and three United States territories.

State Handheld Phone Use Banned  Texting Banned Phone Use Ban for Novice Drivers 
Alabama No Yes Yes (16-17 year olds)
Alaska No Yes No
Arizona Yes Yes Yes (under 18)
Arkansas No Yes Yes (under 18)
California Yes Yes Yes (under 18)
Colorado No Yes Yes (under 18)
Connecticut Yes Yes Yes (under 18)
Delaware Yes Yes Yes
D.C. Yes Yes Yes
Florida No Yes No
Georgia Yes Yes No
Hawaii Yes Yes Yes (under 18)
Guam Yes Yes No
Idaho Yes Yes No
Illinois Yes Yes Yes (under 19)
Indiana Yes Yes Yes (under 21)
Iowa No Yes Yes
Kansas No Yes Yes
Kentucky No Yes Yes (under 18)
Louisiana No Yes Yes
Maine Yes Yes Yes
Maryland Yes Yes Yes (under 18)
Massachusetts Yes Yes Yes (under 18)
Michigan No Yes Yes
Minnesota Yes Yes Yes
Mississippi No Yes No
Missouri No Yes (only 21 and under) No (except for texting restrictions)
Montana No No No
Nebraska No Yes Yes (under 18)
Nevada Yes Yes No
New Hampshire Yes Yes Yes (under 18)
New Jersey Yes Yes Yes
New Mexico No Yes Yes
New York Yes Yes No
North Carolina No Yes Yes (under 18)
North Dakota No Yes Yes (under 18)
Ohio No Yes Yes (under 18)
Oklahoma No Yes Yes (only handheld phones)
Oregon Yes Yes Yes (under 18)
Pennsylvania No Yes No
Puerto Rico Yes Yes No
Rhode Island Yes Yes Yes (under 18)
South Carolina No Yes No
South Dakota Yes Yes Yes
Tennessee Yes Yes Yes
Texas No Yes Yes (under 18)
U.S. Virgin Islands Yes Yes No
Utah No Yes Yes (under 18)
Vermont Yes Yes Yes (under 18)
Virginia Yes Yes Yes (under 18)
Washington Yes Yes Yes
West Virginia Yes Yes Yes (under 18)
Wisconsin No Yes Yes
Wyoming No Yes No

Handheld Cell Phone Bans

Person pressing cell phone button on steering wheel

A hands-free device is a cell phone that you can operate without having the phone in your hands, like when connected to a Bluetooth speaker or car stereo. Hands-free devices allow you to keep your eyes on the road while using your phone.

Half of the states, the District of Columbia, and other American territories forbid the use of handheld devices while driving, which means that in those jurisdictions, you’ll need a hands-free device for cell phone use in your car.

Violations of the handheld device bans are punished swiftly and severely. In New York, for example, handheld device violations can cost you between $50 and $450 for each offense and also result in 5 points being assessed on your driving record. Massachusetts drivers can be fined as much as $500 per violation.

Though hands-free devices make driving safer, hands-free does not mean risk-free. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), the “essential trio” of requirements for safe driving is eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, and mind on driving.

The NSC further notes that your field of vision narrows when talking on the phone. In fact, drivers can miss up to 50% of their surroundings while talking on the phone, even when directly looking out the windshield. So even if you’re using a hands-free device, you must still drive carefully.

Laws Forbidding Text Messaging

Person texting and driving

The NHTSA says that “texting is the most alarming distraction” for motorists. If a text message takes your eyes off the road for five seconds while driving 55 miles per hour, you will have traveled almost 100 yards without looking where you are going.

State lawmakers recognized and responded to this problem. In all states but Missouri and Montana, texting while driving is banned.

Be aware that in most states, texting while driving is a primary offense, meaning that you can be pulled over and issued a citation if a police officer just sees you texting behind the wheel.

Though texting and driving typically carries a lower penalty — California’s minimum fine is $20 and Texas’s is $25 — repeated offenses will increase the penalties. Offenses that cause serious injury or death may also result in jail time.

Today, there are hands-free devices that allow text messaging without the need to look at your phone. They usually accomplish this by reading out received text messages and converting your speech back into text for replies.

The use of hands-free devices for text messaging appears to be legal. However, this practice presents the same distraction risk of taking your mind off the road as using hands-free devices for phone calls.

Special Laws for Novice Drivers

Teenage boy smiling and standing next to car

The term “novice driver” has slightly different meanings in different states, and even in different countries throughout the world.

In the United States, it typically means a driver with a learner’s permit or a provisional license. Others consider the age of the driver when making this classification.

The novice classifications in different states are especially important when it comes to cell phone laws.

Just under half of states apply additional cell phone restrictions to novice drivers based on age. Several others apply them to novice drivers regardless of age.

Either way, new drivers should steer clear of cell phone use. This is important not only to stay within the bounds of the law, but also to learn how to properly and safely operate a motor vehicle without unnecessary distraction.

Drive Safely, Follow the Law, and Get Help

Though they are useful, cellular phones can also be extremely dangerous if used while operating a motor vehicle. Your safety and the safety of your passengers should always be the first consideration. After that, you must be aware of the laws of your jurisdiction and what you’re allowed to do behind the wheel, regardless of whether you feel it’s safe.

If you’ve recovered from minor car accident injuries caused by a distracted driver, you might be able to make your compensation demand directly to the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

Unfortunately, collisions caused by distracted drivers often result in severe injury claims. Find out how to get the compensation you deserve. Make an appointment for a free consultation with a personal injury attorney in your state.

Matthew Carter, Esq. has been a licensed attorney since 2004. He’s admitted to practice law in California and Nevada, where he was awarded the Martindale.com rating of AV – Preeminent. Matthew has successfully handled a variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as trials, appeals, and evidentiary hearings throughout state and federal... Read More >>

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