The Use of Mobile Devices by Motorists

Using a mobile device while driving - either talking on a cellphone or sending text messages - has significant negative effects on driver performance.  The National Safety Council estimates that 1.6 million crashes annually are the result of drivers using mobile devices.  States are combating driver distraction with laws limited the use of mobile devices by drivers.


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Using mobile devices affects driver performance:

  • In 2008, slightly more than 20 percent of all crashes involved some type of distraction.1
  • The National Safety Council estimates 1.6 million crashes annually are the result of drivers using mobile devices.2
  • 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.3

State laws place prohibitions on mobile devices:

  • Seven states—California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah and Washington—as well as Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands — prohibit all drivers from talking on a handheld mobile device. Similar laws go into effect later this year in Maryland and Wisconsin.
  • Except for Maryland and Utah, 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 19 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, and similar laws go into effect in Maryland and Oklahoma later this year.
  • The use of cell phones by beginning drivers is prohibited in 28 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, 29 other states and Washington, D.C., have followed suit.
  • Eight states 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.


1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “An Examination of Driver Distraction as Recorded in NHTSA Databases.” Traffic Safety Facts. September 2009.
2. National Safety Council. “National Safety Council Estimates that At Least 1.6 Million Crashes are
Caused Each Year by Drivers Using Cell Phones and Texting
.” January 12, 2010.
3. Strayer, D.L., Drews, F.A., and Crouch, D.J. “A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver.” Human Factors 48: 381-391 2006.