Hands-Free Driving

States With Hands Free Phone Laws

Distracted driving is extremely dangerous, taking the lives of more than 3,000 Americans each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Many of those deaths could have been prevented had people abstained from using their cellphones while driving.

One way to reduce distracted driving is to connect your smartphone with your car’s infotainment system and use voice commands to make and receive calls. We’ll examine the various state laws regarding cell phone usage while driving and what steps you can take to remain legally compliant. Just remember that laws can change at any time so make sure check with your local and state agencies often.

Hands Free Phone Laws

Your state, including all U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, establishes and maintains laws regarding driving. What is legal in one state may be illegal in another state. It’s the responsibility of motorists to ensure that they obey the law no matter where they are driving.

Bluetooth headsetFourteen states, as well as Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia, prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving. The 14 states are: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. Another four states — Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma — have a hand-held ban on novice drivers or for drivers of state vehicles.

No state currently has an outright ban on hands-free cell phone usage while driving. That means if you can connect your device with the Bluetooth technology installed in your car, you can talk with a headset — typically one covering only one ear. There are also exceptions to this law in some areas. For instance, in New York City taxicab drivers cannot use a cellphone at all while working.

Further Restrictions by Category

There are two categories of drivers where states have a total ban in place — school bus drivers and novice drivers. Twenty states and the District of Columbia forbid school bus drivers from using cellphones while driving buses. Thirty-eight states, D.C. and most territories ban novice drivers from using cell phones when operating vehicles. Novice drivers are usually considered those under a certain age, such as 18, and may cover those with a learner’s permit, an intermediate license or a provisional license, depending on the state.

Text Messaging Ban

All states except for Alaska, Missouri, Montana and Texas restrict drivers from texting while driving. However, Missouri and Texas do restrict novice drivers from texting.

Drivers who are 18 years old and older in California are permitted to listen, dictate and send text-based messages so long as they use a voice-activated, hands-free device.

Pairing a Cell Phone

Bluetooth technology makes it possible to connect a device, such as your smartphone, to your car. Simply make your phone searchable via Bluetooth. Navigate to the Bluetooth settings on your car’s infotainment system (check your owners manual for specific instructions). Then accept the connection when the name of your phone appears on the car’s display panel.

What, No Bluetooth?

If your car doesn’t have Bluetooth, investing in a Bluetooth car kit puts you on even footing with those that do have the technology. Connect the kit to your car’s 12-volt outlet, put on your headset and you can stay within the law.

For more information on hands free phone laws, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Matthew C. Keegan

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