Rules Of The Road: Jalopnik Guide To Cell Phone Usage Laws

(The 10th amendment of the US Constitution created a patchwork quilt of state laws related to driving, which is why Jalopnik sorts through the red tape to bring you detailed guides to driving topics such as teenage driving, speed limits, open containers, dehorsing and lemon laws.)

We we're tempted to just limit this guide to stating that, unless necessary, you shouldn't use your cell phone while driving (A CB Radio is much cooler anyways). But that would make some of us (ahem, Wert) serious hypocrites. There's no state with an all out ban on all types of cell usage, though approximately half of all states have some sort of laws on the books.

City laws vary so we're going to focus on the current level of statewide cell phone bans. In states with jurisdictional laws we'll list the cities included. It is important to note that Chicago, the city with one of the strictest cell phone use policies, is being sued because of the law. The attorneys that filed the suit are claiming that the ban hasn't been properly enacted. The suit doesn't undermine the legality of enacting such bans, however.

Novice Drivers

The District of Columbia and 17 states currently have laws focused on novice drivers, generally meaning those with learner's permits or restricted/novice licenses. These laws almost always include a full ban on persons driving with learner's permits from using a cell phone in a non-emergency situation. New Jersey doesn't allow drivers under the age of 21 to use a cell phone while driving if they don't have a full, non-graduated license. This is all premised on the theory that young drivers are bad enough as it is without yet another distraction.

Preemption Laws

For various reasons, some states don't allow local municipalities to create cell phone driving bans. States like Florida don't allow local municipalities to make any sort of laws related to the use of motor vehicles, which would include cell phone driving bans. Kentucky, on the other hand, specifically states that city or county governments can't impose driving bans. Localities are explicitly allowed to create cell phone driving bans in six states (Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania).

School Bus Drivers

This is sort of no brainer, but only 14 states and the District of Columbia currently have a ban on School Bus drivers talking or texting in non-emergency situations. While we understand why it's a common occurrence, we're a bit surprised to see less states taking action to avoid disasters (we can't imagine there's that strong of a school bus drivers union).

Hands-Free Sets

There's much argument over whether or not hands-free sets are safer, though we tend to doubt it. The few moments we've lapsed on the phone while driving it wasn't because we were looking at the buttons it was because we were paying attention to what was being said. Be that as it may, it's legal to use a cell phone with a hands-free kit according to state laws (city laws may vary).

Primary v. Secondary

As with many laws, including seat belt laws and open container laws, enforcement is either primary or secondary. If it is a primary enforcement law, that means you can get pulled over just for violating it. If it's a secondary law you have to also break an additional law before you can get cited. For example, it's a secondary law in Colorado therefore you'd have to run a stop sign or speed before getting the additional ticket for violating the cell phone ban.

State Laws

These are as of 12/01/2007 and apply only to state-wide laws. Where noted these laws don't go into effect immediately.

Alabama

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Alaska

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Arizona

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Banned

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: Primary

Arkansas

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Banned

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: Primary

California

Hand-Held Devices: Yes (as of July 2008)

Bus Drivers: Banned (including transit operators)

Novice Restrictions: 18 and Under (as of July 2008)

Enforcement: Primary

Colorado

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: Learner's Permit

Enforcement: N/A

Connecticut

Hand-Held Devices: Banned

Bus Drivers: Banned

Novice Restrictions: Learner's Permit and Under 18

Enforcement: Primary

Delaware

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Banned

Novice Restrictions: Learner's Permit and Intermediate Licenses

Enforcement: Primary

Florida

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Georgia

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Banned

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Hawaii

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Idaho

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Illinois

Hand-Held Devices: Chicago Only

Bus Drivers: Banned

Novice Restrictions: Under 19 and Learner's Permit

Enforcement: Primary

Indiana

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Iowa

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Kansas

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Kentucky

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Banned

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: Primary

Louisiana

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Maine

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: Learner's Permit and Intermediate License

Enforcement: Primary

Maryland

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: Learner's Permit and Intermediate License

Enforcement: Secondary

Massachusetts

Hand-Held Devices: Brookline

Bus Drivers: Banned

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: Primary

Michigan

Hand-Held Devices: Detroit

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Minnesota

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: Learner's Permit and Provisional Licenses for the first 12 months after licensing

Enforcement: Primary

Mississippi

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Missouri

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Montana.

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Nebraska

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: Learners Permit and Intermediate License Holders under 18, includes Blackberry and other wireless devices

Enforcement: Secondary

Nevada

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

New Hampshire

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

New Jersey

Hand-Held Devices: Banned, Including Text Messaging (As Of 3/01/08)

Bus Drivers: Banned

Novice Restrictions: Learner's Permit and Intermediate Licenses

Enforcement: Primary

New Mexico

Hand-Held Devices: Santa Fe

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Additional Restrictions:

New York

Hand-Held Devices: Banned

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

North Carolina

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Banned

Novice Restrictions: Drivers Under 18

Enforcement: Primary

North Dakota

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Ohio

Hand-Held Devices: Brookyln, North Olmstead and Walton Hills

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Oklahoma

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Oregon

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: Learner's Permit and Intermediate Licenses (As of 2008)

Enforcement: Secondary

Pennsylvania

Hand-Held Devices: Lebanon, Conshohocken and Conshohocken

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Rhode Island

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Banned

Novice Restrictions: Under 18

Enforcement: Primary

South Carolina

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

South Dakota

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Tennessee

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Banned

Novice Restrictions: Learner's Permit and Intermediate Licenses

Enforcement: Primary

Texas

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Banned When Students Present

Novice Restrictions: Intermediate License Holders

Enforcement: Primary

Utah

Hand-Held Devices: Banned

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: Secondary

Vermont

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Virginia

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: Intermediate License Holders

Enforcement: Secondary

Washington

Hand-Held Devices: Banned (As of July 2008) Text Message (As of 2008)

Bus Drivers: Banned

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: Secondary

Washington, D.C.

Hand-Held Devices: Primary

Bus Drivers: Banned

Novice Restrictions: Learner's Permit Holders

Enforcement: Primary

West Virginia

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: Learner's Permit and Intermediate License Holders

Enforcement: Secondary

Wisconsin

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

Wyoming

Hand-Held Devices: Allowed

Bus Drivers: Allowed

Novice Restrictions: None

Enforcement: N/A

[Sources: Governor's Highway Safety Association and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety]