Distracted driving is defined as engaging in any other activity while driving a vehicle, including using a cell phone or some other electronic device. Federal government statistics paint a grim picture, with more than 3,166 people killed in 2017, the most recent year such data was available. The individual states enact and oversee motor vehicle laws, thus you must follow different distracted driving laws as you travel the country.
Distracted Driving Essentials
Electronic devices and cell phones are the most easily recognized ways to become distracted while driving. But the federal government looks at anything that can detract from your visual, manual and cognitive attention, and includes some additional factors.
Such factors include: eating while driving, talking to passengers, personal grooming, adjusting the audio system, using a navigation system, watching a video and map reading. Texting while driving may be the most egregious distraction of all as it takes your full attention away from the road and places it on the device.
State Law Overview
In all, 14 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands expressly outlaw the use of hand-held devices while driving. This provision covers all drivers regardless of age. However, no states forbid drivers from using hands-free devices, including Bluetooth-enabled and voice-activated smart phones according to the Governors Highway Safety Administration.
Novice drivers, typically identified as first-time teenage drivers, have further restrictions placed on them in 38 states as well as in the District of Columbia. Under no circumstance may a novice driver use a cell phone, including a hands-free enabled device, while operating a motor vehicle. As for school bus drivers operating in the line of duty, 20 states and the District of Columbia forbid cell phone use.
The strongest distracted driving laws cover texting while driving. Every district, territory and 46 states prohibit text messaging while driving for all drivers. However, Arizona only forbids this practice for its school bus drivers. Furthermore, Texas and Missouri only prohibit texting by novice drivers, and Montana alone has yet to forbid texting while driving.
Across the board, police officers may stop motorists for cell phone use while driving as a primary enforcement. This means officers do not need any other reason for stopping violators, such as for speeding.
Facts That Matter
Distracted driving can prove deadly, and through the Distraction.gov website the federal government attempts to educate Americans about the dangers inherent with such lawless driving.
For instance, drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of distracted driving, with 1 in 10 fatalities attributed to people in this age group. Moreover, drivers in their 20s comprise 27 percent of all fatalities involving distracted driving. And if using a headset for cell phone use while driving is your way of staying within the law, the data reveals that it’s only slightly safer than hand-held use. It would be better for you to pull off the road and make that call.
Much of the data studying distracted driving is easily applied to real-life situations. For example, drivers who are traveling at 55 mph and take their eyes off the road to text — even for just five seconds — are traveling equal to the length of a football field and might as well be blindfolded. That’s a long distance to traverse without paying attention to the road and underscores the seriousness of violating distracted driving laws.
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Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.