According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “distracted driving” is a major menace on America’s roads, and the biggest distraction is using a cell phone while driving. In 2017, there were 2,935 fatal “distracted driving” crashes in America, and 14 percent of them involved a cell phone. It is estimated that cell phone use by drivers causes 1.6 million crashes per year and 390,000 injuries. Texting while driving turns out to be six times more likely than drunk driving to cause a crash.
States have moved broadly to limit cell phone use by drivers. As of April 2020, talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving is banned in 24 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories (Indiana and South Dakota’s laws become effective July 1, 2020; Virginia’s law becomes effective on January 1, 2021; Arizona will issue warnings until 2021 when it will issue tickets). Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia also ban use of cellphones by school bus drivers.
Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 48 states and the District of Columbia. The only exceptions are sparsely populated Montana; and Missouri, which bans texting by drivers under 21. Laws for new or younger drivers are even more restrictive: the use of all cellphones by novice drivers is restricted in 38 states and the District of Columbia. In almost all states that restrict or ban the use of cellphones by drivers, violation is a “primary” offense, which means police can pull you over and ticket you without some other violation.