Driving and Cell Phone Laws – What You Can and Can’t Do

You see it happen all too often. You are driving to school or work and you get stuck behind a driver going slower than the speed limit. He is also weaving from lane to lane. As you peer through his back window, you see him holding a cell phone to one ear. It is obvious that he is paying more attention to the conversation than he is to driving safely. Several states and some foreign countries have actually banned the use of hand-held cell phones. Individual cities have taken this a step further, saying that certain drivers are outlawed from using hand-held cell phones. These drivers also cannot text or use a headset.

When you talk on a cell phone as you are driving, your attention is divided between your conversation and your driving. If your conversation is emotional, you are even more distracted. You do not notice when you weave from one lane to another. The only time you are aware you have been weaving is when someone honks angrily at you. It is time to turn the phone off, put it down and let incoming calls go to voice mail.

Why? Because 25 percent of all accidents are blamed on driver inattention. Even dialing a phone number splits your attention because your eyes have to move from the road to the cell phone and back. Using a hands free device, such as a headset, may not be any safer. You can still become distracted. One important question centers on actual phone conversations. These may be the cause of your distraction, which makes any cell phone conversation dangerous if you happen to be driving.

Some cities and towns have actually passed laws that ban some kinds of mobile phone use for drivers. Several states have legally banned the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. These states include Washington, California, Washington D.C., Connecticut, Oregon, the Virgin Islands, Maryland, New York and New Jersey. Maryland does not allow law enforcement officers to pull you over for using your mobile phone unless you have committed another moving violation.

School bus drivers and newer drivers are banned from using mobile phones while driving. This includes using a headset. Newer drivers who are driving with a learner permit or younger drivers under the age of 18 cannot use any kind of communication device while they are behind the wheel.

What does this mean for sending text messages behind the wheel? In 35 states, including Guam, text messaging is banned for every driver. Police officers in most of these states are legally allowed to pull you over to cite you for texting while driving. In these states, texting while driving is called a primary offense.

Some states count cell phone use while driving as part of a larger offense called distracted driving. Drivers who are stopped for distracted driving will be given citations. Several foreign countries ban the use of hand-held cell phones, but they do allow the use of headsets. The time may be coming when a federal law bans the use of hand-held cell phones.