Distracted Driving: The Role of Cell Phones and Driving Laws by State

distracted driving cell phone laws

At the most basic level, distracted driving is engaging in any activities while driving that take your attention away from the road. When your attention isn’t on the road, it’s a serious problem. It should come as no surprise that cell phones play a significant role in distracted driving – use of a cell phone is often one of the biggest distractors we have while in the car.

If you’ve purchased a vehicle in recent years, your car may even have functions to help lessen distracted driving, whether it’s a coffee cup indicator that appears on the dashboard when your car senses you need some caffeine or a break from driving, the vibration of a steering wheel to keep the driver alert, or your phone reading text messages aloud to you so you don’t have to pick up your phone. (Think these safety indicators sound helpful? You may be interested in seeing our list of the safest cars on the market in 2021.)

We’ve covered distracted driving on The Glovebox before – why it’s a problem, the three classifications of distracted driving, how it can affect insurance, and tips for remaining focused while on the road. But in this post, we’re going to focus on the role cell phones play in distracted driving – whether it’s texting, talking, or the use of apps while driving – and we’ll also cover driving laws by state.

How cell phone use impacts distracted driving

One study by the University of Utah found that it takes the brain 27 seconds on average to regain full attention after “talking” to your hands-free device. Another statistic published by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has found that while driving at 55mph, in the time it takes to read or send a text message, it’s the equivalent of driving blind for the length of an entire football field.

You can see from studies and statistics like those that taking a quick peek at your phone to check a text message or change a song on Spotify – it really adds up to a lot of time where your brain is not focused on the road. Being distracted is not only dangerous for you, your passengers, and other drivers on the road, it can also cause your insurance to go up, accidents, injury, and death.

State by state driving laws for cell phone use

Distracted driving is such a problem that in much of our country, it’s illegal and punishable by law. The laws differ from state to state and range from banning texting to banning hand-held devices altogether Yep, you read that right—you could be pulled over or get a ticket for as much as picking up your phone while you’re behind the wheel (even if you’re at a stop light)! A good rule of thumb is that if the engine is turned on, you’re now considered a vehicle “in motion”, which makes texting at a stop light illegal.

We understand keeping up with current laws and regulations can be a bit overwhelming, but it’s important to know where your state (and any state you might be driving in) stands when it comes to driving laws related to cell phone use. That’s why we’ve put together a handy infographic on cell phone and driving laws. Below, you can see a breakdown of the current driving laws in each state as of this year (sourced from GHSA, the IIHS, and NCSL). In your state, illegal cell phone use while driving could result in a ticket or points on your license, and repeated offenses can carry stricter punishment.

Think your state needs to do more to fight distracted driving to keep you and other drivers safe? We encourage you to get in touch with your state and local legislators by phone or email to let them know your thoughts.

How Elephant is taking a stand on distracted driving

Our aim at Elephant is to help make sure the roads you drive on are safe, clean, and distraction-free. One way we do this is through our partnership with Project Yellow Light, a national scholarship competition that was founded by Julie Garner, who lost her teenage son Hunter Garner in a car accident in 2007.

This national scholarship competition is dedicated to encouraging teens and adults alike to practice safe driving habits, and to educate everyone about the dangers of distracted driving—specifically texting while driving. Since its start in 2011, Project Yellow Light has awarded over 95 scholarships totaling $195,000. These numbers grow each year as more scholarships are awarded.

Elephant supports Project Yellow Light alongside national partners like The Ad Council, AT&T’s It Can Wait and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Project Yellow Light founder Julie Garner says,

“Working to spread the critical message about the dangers of distracted driving is so important. Our student scholarship winners use their voices and creativity to impact young drivers and help save lives. The support of our partners, including Elephant Insurance, allows us to keep funding scholarships and reach more people about the dangers of distracted driving.”

Tips to avoid distracted driving

  • When in doubt, pull over. This is always the safest choice if something can’t wait. However, don’t linger on the side of the road if it’s a longer stop. Get off the highway and find a parking lot you can use.
  • Off. Your. Phone. We can’t stress this enough. Keep it out of your hand, even more so if it’s illegal in your state. Text messages and notifications can wait, and if it’s more urgent, only opt for hands-free calling.
  • Be prepared. The less you have to think about while driving, the better. Eat, get a good night’s rest, choose radio presets, adjust your mirror, and seat and enter your destination into the GPS all before hitting the road.

Learn more about the dangers of distracted driving and how it can impact your insurance.

We want your next trip to be a safe one.

After learning more about distracted driving, cell phone and state laws, we hope you’ll take initiative to stop distracted driving and encourage those around you to do the same.

While we hope all your trips are safe and distraction free, we know that accidents happen. Protect yourself in potential future accidents by getting a quote with us today for affordable car insurance.

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