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Distracted Driving Laws

One of the most common and dangerous distractions for teens behind the wheel are cell phones. Distracted driving laws help reduce this crash risk for teens. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, a third of teens self-report texting or emailing while driving (in the prior month), a proven deadly distraction for all drivers and especially teen drivers:

  • Just the act of dialing a cell phone increases crash risk by three times. In a naturalistic study of truckers, Virginia Tech researchers reported a 23-fold increase in risk of a crash or near crash when drivers were text messaging.
  • For drivers under age 20 involved in fatal crashes, 19 percent of those distracted were distracted by the use of cell phones.
  • Some activities--such as texting--take the driver's attention away from driving more frequently and for longer periods of time than other distractions.

Strong distracted driving laws are now on the books. Currently, 14 states, the District of Columbia (DC), Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have instituted a hand-held cell phone ban for all drivers, with all  primary enforcement. No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, but 38 states and the District of Columbia ban all cell phone use by novice drivers. Texting while driving is  banned in 44 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam, with all but five of them making it  primary enforcement. Of the six states without an all driver texting ban, 4 prohibit text messaging by novice drivers. For the latest stats and facts regarding distracted driving laws, visit  the Governors Highway Traffic Safety Association.

Nearly all states include at least one category for distraction on police crash report forms, although the specific data collected varies. The Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria (MMUCC) guideline provides best practices on distraction data collection

According to research conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the first generation of all-driver cell phone ban laws was generally effective at reducing use of hand-held cell phones while driving but not at reducing crashes. It is unclear why. To make distracted driving laws more effective, policymakers should consider cell phone ban laws that include hands-free devices and supportive activities such as primary enforcement, law enforcement education, publicizing enforcement, and public education and awareness.

NHTSA-funded demonstration programs in NY and CT communities suggest  High Visibility Enforcement (HVE) of laws banning cell phones and texting while driving could be effective. HVE involves dedicated enforcement during specific periods, paid/earned media promoting an "enforcement" message, and evaluation. HVE has successfully addressed seat belt use (Click it or Ticket), impaired driving, and aggressive driving. Policymakers should consider providing funds for HVE when creating in-car cell phone/texting ban legislation.








teen driver with multiple passengers

Access more stats and facts on cell phone use and other dangerous distractions for teen drivers.

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