States with the Harshest and Most Lenient Cell Phone Laws in 2019
We take a look at each U.S. state's laws pertaining to cell phone use while driving and see whether there is any correlation with the number of road accidents each year.
Written by Marisa Crane
In 2017, nearly 3,200 people died as a result of distracted driving. Distracted driving involves any activity that diverts your full attention from the road—texting or talking on your cell phone, drinking or eating, and using the navigation or entertainment system.
Among these distractions, texting or talking on your phone is arguably the most dangerous activity. While texting and driving is always a life-threatening choice, April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month in the United States, so we’ve decided to examine the data surrounding individual state cell phone laws and the implications of those laws. Some states have harsh cell phone laws while others are far more lenient. Data suggest harsh laws can increase safety while lenient laws may lead to detrimental consequences.
How safe is driving in your state? How dangerous? See where your state falls in the ranks.
Some states are diligent in regards to their phone use and driving laws. They recognize the perils of distracted driving and do what they can to mitigate them. That said, not every state recognizes the hazards of texting or talking while driving. In fact, some states don’t have a single law in place forbidding cell phone use. This can be scary when you consider the fact that more than 85% of Americans drove a car as their main form of commuting in 2016.
We examined the cell phone laws of each state and created a system that grades their safety accordingly. In the table below, you will find your state and its corresponding letter grade (A-F).
Whether you’re texting your group chat about a Tinder date, replying to work emails, or learning a new language on Duolingo, using your phone while driving is a serious threat to your safety and the safety of those around you. We live in a fast-paced world in which multi-tasking is considered the new norm, but at what price?
Consider the following distracted driving statistics from 2016:
- 9.2% of all fatal crashes were due to distraction-related car crashes.
- 562 nonoccupants (bicyclists, pedestrians, etc.) were killed by distracted drivers.
- 486 people died in fatal crashes that involved cell phone use while driving.
- People in their twenties had the highest rate of fatal crashes due to their distracted driving (28%) and cell phone use (34%).
- 70% of the distracted drivers in fatal car accidents were male.
Keep in mind that these statistics come from accidents and fatalities that were reported to the police—it’s likely that these figures are actually higher in reality.
According to Zendrive, in 2018, 69 million drivers used their phones with distracted driving increasing in every state (except Vermont) since 2017
Why does distracted driving cause so many accidents? Well, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), reading or sending a text message takes your eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. That means if you’re driving 55 mph, those five seconds equate to driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed. We don’t know about you, but we’d rather leave the reaction time tests for the NFL combine.
As of now, statistics concerning the number of cell phone-related crashes are unavailable because state governments have yet to collect this information. That said, we have found some trends that suggest a correlation between state cell phone laws and fatal crashes per 100,000 population. In summary, having cell phone laws in place appears to reduce the number of fatalities related to car accidents. Of course, more research is necessary to confirm this connection—there are so many factors at play when it comes to determining the reason for fatal crashes.
Correlations Between Hand-Held Ban and Fatal Car Accidents
- States that do not ban hand-held use of cell phones experienced an average of 13.49 fatal accidents per 100,000.
- States that do ban hand-held use of cell phones experienced an average of 11.22 fatal accidents per 100,000.
Correlations Between Text Messaging Ban and Fatal Car Crashes
- Only one state, Montana, does not have a text messaging ban and they experienced 17.7 fatal car crashes per 100,000.
- Conversely, states that do ban text messaging experienced 12.43 fatal car crashes per 100,000.
Although it’s recommended that you wait to use your cell phone until you’ve reached your destination, we recognize that sometimes that can be unavoidable. As such, there are some precautions you can take that can reduce your risk of an accident. With today’s technology, there are ways in which you can use your phone without compromising your concentration and safety.
- Invest in hands-free accessories, such as a blue-tooth speakerphone, a headset, or a mounted device to hold your phone. Practice using your accessory prior to driving so you don’t have to mess around with it while on the road.
- Use voice-controlled assistants like Siri or Google Assistant to read and send and read text messages, or download a voice-to-text app, like Voice Texting Pro, Voice Text, Speech-to-Text, Speak N Send, and more.
- Get to know your cell phone and its features, such as speed dial and redial. That way, if necessary, you can make a phone call quickly and efficiently without distraction.
- Avoid having stressful or emotionally-loaded conversations on the phone while driving. Any time that you’re talking on the phone as the driver, it is best to alert the person that you’re driving and that you may have to hang up and stop talking if stressful conversations or hazardous conditions, such as bad weather or heavy traffic, arise.
If you can't avoid using your phone while driving, use hands-free accessories and voice-activated commands on your phone
There’s no doubt that distracted driving is an issue that should be taken seriously, and not just during Distracted Driving Awareness Month, but always. That call can wait, that text can wait. No amount of likes on an Instagram post is worth the possible accident, injury, or death.
Some states are safer to drive in than others—these include but aren’t limited to New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Illinois, Georgia, Delaware, and California. The most dangerous state to drive in is Montana since the state has failed to enact any laws related to cell phone use while driving. Other states with lenient laws include Wyoming, South Carolina, Missouri, Florida, Idaho, and Pennsylvania.
What do you think about your state’s cell phone laws? Should they be more strict? Have you ever been pulled over for talking or texting while driving? What’s your favorite hands-free accessory? Tweet us at @letstalk.
The letter grade for each state is based on whether or not they have a law in place (as of April 2019) in each of the four categories: hand-held ban, text messaging ban, cell phone ban amongst bus drivers, and cell phone ban amongst novice drivers. Distracted driving percentages come from the National Occupant Protection Use Survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), which provides the only nationwide probability-based observed data on driver electronic device use in the United States. The NOPUS is conducted annually by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The percentages provided in this research note are interpreted as the percentage of drivers nationwide at a typical daylight moment. The survey observes usage as it actually occurs at randomly selected roadway sites and thus provides the best tracking of the extent to which people in the United States use cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. Over 50,000 vehicles observed in this study. Source Regions:
- Northeast: ME, VT, NH, MA, RI, CT, NY, PA, NJ
- Midwest: MI, OH, IN, IL, WI, MN, IA, MO, KS, NE, SD, ND
- South: WV, MD, DE, VA, KY, TN, NC, SC, GA, FL, AL, MS, AR, LA, OK, TX, DC
- West: AK, WA, OR, CA, NV, ID, UT, AZ, NM, CO, WY, MT, HI
Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System. Posted Dec. 2018. Reporting on data from 2017.
Data from Governors Highway Safety Assocation. Since there were some nuances between each state and category we gave each state a point for each category they had any existing law for. Hand-held Cell Phone Use: prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving.