You're driving home from work in a downpour and your cell phone suddenly sounds off on the seat beside you. It's your son telling you that he flunked algebra. He figures he'll let you know before you get home so you'll have time to digest the information, and maybe you won't be so angry. Can you concentrate on the road? Not if you're like many drivers.
Driver distraction contributes to 25 percent of all accidents, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 10 million drivers are using their cell phones behind the wheel at any given moment. That's a lot of distracted drivers. States have responded with numerous cell phone driving laws. Here are the most recent as of May 2016.
Put down the cell phone
Surprisingly, cell phone use itself isn't completely prohibited for all drivers in any state. It's what you're doing with your hands while you're chatting away that can get you in trouble. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have specifically outlawed handheld cell phones by any driver: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. If you drive in any of these states, you're not breaking the law as long as you're an experienced adult driver and you talk on speaker or through your vehicle's built-in microphone.
That means texting, too
It's a rare individual who confines his cell phone use to talking. The general consensus is that texting while driving is even more distracting than holding an oral conversation on the phone. The District of Columbia joins 46 states in prohibiting texting behind the wheel. You can only get away with a quick "CUL8R" while driving in Arizona, Missouri, Montana, and Texas - and even in these states, it can depend on your age.
The rules are tougher on novice drivers
Laws are even stricter for the cell phone generation. Teen drivers and novices - those operating vehicles on permits or probationary licenses - are banned from any cell phone use at all in 38 states and the District of Columbia, even hands-free chatting. Among the four states that permit texting and driving, this lenience applies only to adults in Missouri and Texas. Drivers younger than 21 can't text in Missouri, and those under 18 can't do it in Texas.
Cell phone use can be a primary offense
Law enforcement officers can pull you over simply because you're using your cell phone in some states. They don't need any other reason because it's a primary offense. All 14 states that prohibit handheld cell phones consider talking with one in your hand to be a primary offense. Only five of the 46 states that outlaw texting behind the wheel consider texting a secondary offense. You must be committing some other, additional violation before you can be pulled over in Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota.
Know the law where you drive
According to the Governor's Highway Safety Association, a few too many counties and municipalities have also jumped on the no-cell-phones-while-driving bandwagon. Ten states have passed preemption laws in response. Counties and municipalities are prohibited from enacting their own laws in Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Carolina. If you regularly drive elsewhere, the GHSA recommends checking local ordinances as well as state laws.