UPDATED: AUGUST 22, 2023 | 2 MIN READ
Drivers engaging in distracted driving, even for a split second, can cause a devastating crash. Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of car accidents, and cellphone use is often one of the culprits.
Federal regulations don’t include a texting and driving law; however, many states penalize distracted driving, especially texting. Here’s a look at the texting and driving laws by state and the possible penalties if caught by a police officer.
Why is texting and driving dangerous?
Texting and driving are dangerous because it significantly impairs a driver’s ability to focus on the road and respond to changing traffic conditions. When a driver texts, they must take their eyes off the road, their hands off the wheel, and their mind off of driving.
This distraction can cause delayed reaction times, reduced awareness of surroundings, and impaired decision-making skills, all of which increase the risk of an accident.
The bottom line is when you’re texting and driving, you’re driving distracted — and it’s dangerous.
What is distracted driving?
Distracted driving is an activity that keeps a driver’s eyes off the road when they operate a motor vehicle.
According to The National High Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2020 saw 3,142 fatalities from distracted driving. Texting is the worst distraction. When we text, we take our eyes off the road, sometimes for several seconds or even a minute.
Texting or checking your social media notifications takes your eyes away from the road for five seconds or more. Even using a device hands-free can still lead to distracted driving, with various states enacting statewide laws for cellphone use.
How many people die from texting and driving?
It’s difficult to determine the exact number of deaths caused by texting and driving because these accidents are typically lumped in with all distracted driving accidents.
However, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that distracted driving, which includes texting while behind the wheel, was a factor in 9% of fatal crashes in the United States in 2019.
This equates to approximately 3,142 people who lost their lives in distracted driving-related accidents that year.
Which states have texting and driving laws?
Many states now prohibit all drivers from using handheld devices while driving. There are 30 states, plus the District of Columbia (DC), Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with such laws.
Multiple states add a distinction where a driver can use a cell phone while driving if they have an emergency or want to report road conditions. Your state law will outline exceptions for handheld cell phone use while driving.
Montana doesn’t feature a law against handheld cell phone use, but various cities do, including Baker, Billings, Bozeman, Columbia Falls, Hamilton, Helena, Great Falls, Missoula, and Whitefish. The same goes for the Wyoming communities of Cheyenne, Powell, and Green River.
Texting and driving laws by state
State laws combat texting behind the wheel, one of the worst traffic offenses. Currently, 48 states and the District of Columbia (DC), Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands feature a driving-while-texting ban for all drivers.
These laws often feature primary enforcement. Primary enforcement means law enforcement can pull distracted drivers over and issue a ticket for violating the law without observing the driver break another traffic law.
What are the penalties for distracted driving and texting?
Penalties for by state vary, with fees ranging from $50 to $75. The first offense in Alabama costs $25, and California charges $20. Colorado, Louisiana, and Indiana are some states with fines of $100 or more.
Alaska is extreme, with fines of up to $500 for the first offense unless the driver causes an injury, then it increases up to $50,000. State fines often increase or double if texting occurs while in a work or school zone.
- Strictest by Laws By State: Alaska, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin
- States the Least Strict: California, Iowa, Montana, New Mexico, and South Carolina
In 26 states, texting behind the wheel adds points to a driver’s license, with the typical amount ranging from two to four points, based on the state and offense level. Illinois drivers can receive up to 10 points on their license for texting while driving charge and risk license suspension. North Dakota drivers texting while driving may receive up to six points.
State bans for school bus drivers
Some states’ distracted driving laws often target school bus drivers, especially in the wake of terrible crashes like the 2015 Knoxville, Tennesee crash that killed two students and an adult. The following are the only locations without laws forbidding cellphone use by bus drivers.
- Montana (certain cities forbid cellphone use by all drivers)
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- U.S. territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, the North Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands
- West Virginia
Are states harsher on young drivers who text and drive?
Young drivers are often the focus of texting-related laws by states. Within handheld cellphone use laws, some states forbid any cellphone use by novice drivers. A total of 36 states and DC prohibit cellphone use by young drivers with an intermediate license.
Missouri prohibits novice drivers from text messaging while driving. Arizona forbids teen drivers from using a cell phone while driving in the first six months after graduating to a regular license or until they turn 18. California doesn’t allow drivers under 18 to use a cell phone while driving, even hands-free.
Only these states don’t restrict teen cellphone use while driving:
Some states feature graduated driver’s license programs, where a young driver goes through three stages for their driving privileges: a learner’s permit or provisional license, an intermediate license, and a full license. Specific regulations for each stage may exist in certain states.
Can you text and drive in NC?
Is it illegal to text and drive in Missouri?
No, but only if you’re a driver at least 21 years old or older. It’s illegal to text and drive in Missouri for drivers under 21.
If charged with the offense, drivers pay a $100 fine and receive points on their driver’s license. It’s also illegal for commercial drivers to text and drive in Missouri.
Can you text and drive in Montana?
Yes, but only in specific locations. Montana lacks distracted driving laws at the state level. However, several Montana cities and communities feature laws against distracted driving. Baker, Billings, Bozeman, Columbia Falls, Hamilton, Helena, Great Falls, Missoula, and Whitefish forbid texting and driving.
Is it illegal to text and drive in Kansas?
Yes. Kansas outlaws all texting while driving. If charged, a driver faces a $60 to $120 fine.
Can you text and drive in New Hampshire?
No. In New Hampshire, you can’t text and drive, and state law prohibits handheld cell phone use. The first penalty is a $100 fine.
What are the penalties for texting and driving in North Carolina?
North Carolina’s text and driving law guidelines feature a $100 fine. The state doesn’t add points to the driver’s license for the offense.
Does the US government forbid texting and driving?
The federal government doesn’t have a national law about texting and driving. Many states and communities feature specific laws forbidding texting while driving.