Driving requires constant attention — yet people are seemingly spending more time staring at iPhones to text friends. It's dangerous and that's why it's becoming illegal in more states. A guide to where and how the laws work below.
When the first set of cell phone driving laws were passed, many of them did not include text messaging provisions. While the concept of texting-while-driving falls under most driver distraction laws, those are often not enforced until after an accident or incident occurs. Click on the maps below to discover whether your state has a full statewide ban, has pending legislation, teen-driving laws or nothing at all.
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. In nearly every state with a full or novice ban this is a primary, and not a secondary, offense. Washington is the only state with a full, comprehensive "secondary" ban.
Photo Credit: TimCaynes
States With No Statewide Bans (In Red)
Approximately half the states have no text messaging laws at all. In most cases there's no cell phone driving law at all. In states like Georgia there is a cell phone ban but no provision for anything related to texting. Illinois has given cities the ability to create and enforce their own texting laws, though Chicago is the only city to do so yet. There are also a couple of cities in Wyoming where local ordinances have been passed. On the other side, states like Florida and Kentucky explicitly forbid local governments from enforcing such laws.
States With Statewide Bans (In Red)
There are 14 states, plus the District of Columbia, with full bans on texting-while-driving either as part of the overall cell phone law or as a recent addendum. Colorado is one of the few states with a text-messaging ban (effective the end of 2009) with no full cell phone bans. The Arkansas texting-while-driving ban is effective in October 2009 so enjoy it while you can.
States With Novice Bans (In Red)
Though some believe driving and texting, ie. endangering everyone around you, is a right of all real'mericans, most people are not insane enough to believe it's okay for a 16-year-old with a learner's permit to focus on creating the ideal emoticon instead of the road. In addition to the states with full bans, there are nine states with some form of novice driver ban. These range from the strict Maine law covering everyone under 18 to the more lenient Nebraska law for anyone under 18 with a learners or provisional license. Mississippi is one of a few states where the law applies to anyone with a learner or provisional license. Enforcement in most of these places is limited to an after-the-fact ticket where the "fact" is probably a distracted teenager driving into a Starbucks.
States With Pending Legislation (In Red)
There are a dozen states where lawmakers have proposed texting-while-driving bans but have not signed them into law. In Illinois, for instance, the law is sitting on the governor's desk and is likely to be signed before the end of the summer. There's pending legislation in Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, Mississippi and Oregon at various levels in the government. Currently, Pennsylvania has a large-scale law related to teen driving that's gaining momentum.