State Legislatures Toughening Laws on Distracted Driving

While most states have laws banning “texting while driving,” states are increasingly strengthening enforcement and penalties for so-called “distracted driving.” In 2016, auto accidents and fatalities increased by 9 percent. As a consequence, in 2017, states have taken varying approaches to solve the problem of distracted driving – which often results in accidents.

The states of Iowa and Washington have enacted the strictest laws against “distracted driving” in the country. Now, a violation (texting or calling – without a hands-free device) will move from secondary enforcement to primary enforcement. This means that police officers will not have to witness a secondary violation (such as speeding, failure to signal, etc.) before pulling a car over and issuing an additional ticket for texting or calling while driving. Instead, if a police officer witnesses a driver texting or placing a phone call, they will have the right to pull that driver over immediately and issue a ticket.

Washington, along with Iowa, has also gone a step further in expanding their distracted driving laws. Both states have expanded the definition of distracted driving to include dangerous behaviors such as: checking Facebook or Instagram, or watching online video through Netflix or YouTube.

Other states, notably Texas (the third-largest state by population) have finally joined 43 other states in making texting while driving a primary offense. This leaves only Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota as states with secondary enforcement, or no texting law at all.

Teen drivers, with their relative inexperience and dangerous-proclivities have also taken center-stage in states’ quest against distracted driving. Multiple states – including Arizona, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Vermont all enacted policies aimed at preventing teenagers from using their cell phones while driving. Arizona prohibited the use of cellular devices by all teenagers while driving. While Oklahoma required their driver’s education courses to include the dangers concerning distracted driving. Taking a less cautious route, Tennessee and Vermont chose to only prohibit the use of handheld devices in school zones.

In total, 14 states currently ban the use of hand-held devices while driving. A total of 38 states ban cell phone use for “novice” or teenage drivers and 46 states ban text messaging while driving. This number is certain to grow as more traffic fatalities are caused by distracted drivers – the exact reason that ten states, and the District of Columbia, have toughened laws on distracted driving in 2017.


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