Use of Mobile Devices by Motorists

 Since the use of mobile phones adversely affects driver performance, many states are now placing restrictions or prohibitions on their use.

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Using mobile phones affects driver performance:

  • A 2006 study concluded that nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event. The most common distraction for drivers is the use of cell phones.1
  • Both hands-free and handheld phones create enough distraction to degrade a driver’s performance. Talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving while intoxicated, even if the phone is used with a hands-free device.2
  • A 2003 study estimates that cell phone use while driving contributes to 6 percent of crashes, which equates to 636,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries and 2,600 deaths each year. The annual financial toll of cell phone-related crashes is $43 billion.3
  • The National Safety Council, a national nonprofit that focuses on traffic and workplace safety and emergency preparedness, now calls for a ban on the use of all cell phones and other messaging devices while driving.

State laws place prohibition on mobile devices:

  • Six states—California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Utah and Washington—and the District of Columbia as well as the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from talking on a handheld mobile device.
  • Except for Utah and Washington, these laws have primary enforcement, which means a motorist may be ticketed for using a handheld cell phone while driving without also committing another traffic offense.
  • No state completely bans all types of cell phone use, including handheld and hands-free, for all drivers, but many prohibit their use for certain drivers.
  • In 18 states, school bus drivers are prohibited from using a cell phone when students or other passengers are on the bus. California also prohibits transit bus drivers from using a cell phone.
  • The use of cell phones by new drivers is prohibited in 18 states and Washington, D.C.
  • In May 2007, Washington became the first state to ban sending text messages with a cell phone while driving. Since then, six other states—Alaska, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota and New Jersey—and the District of Columbia have followed suit.
  • Nine states—Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia—prohibit text messaging by novice drivers.

State laws may pre-empt or permit local jurisdictions to regulate cell phone usage:

  • Eight states—Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah—prohibit local jurisdictions from enacting any restrictions on the use of handheld devices.
  • Six states—Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania— specifically authorize localities to enact laws that ban the use of cell phones while driving. In some states, localities do not need specific statutory authority to ban cell phones.