Preventing Distracted Driving
No Texting While Driving

Texting Dangers, Laws and Penalties: Distracted Driving

Updated Dec. 16, 2020

There is no driver distraction more dangerous than texting, emailing or sending any other written communication with an electronic device. While typing on a cell phone or similar device, you will be visually, manually and cognitively distracted from the task of driving.

Research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that motorists who text while driving take their eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds at a time, on average. While traveling at 55mph, this is the amount of time it would take to drive the entire length of a football field. If you are focused on your cell phone during this time, you may as well be driving 360 feet with your eyes closed.

Despite the obvious danger of texting while driving, it is estimated that around 660,000 drivers on our roads are using an electronic device at any given time. The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that texting or emailing while driving causes around 200,000 crashes annually.

Texting among teen drivers

Texting while driving is now the leading cause of death for teenage drivers, having surpassed drunk driving, which was the previous number-one. During a survey orchestrated by the American Automobile Association, 50 percent of teenage participants admitted that they text while behind the wheel. It is no surprise that each year, more than 3,000 teen drivers are killed in traffic accidents caused by texting while driving.

As a novice driver, you are at considerably greater risk of being involved in a fatal traffic accident as compared to more experienced drivers. This is the case, even if you avoid taking unnecessary risks! If you ignore the dangers of texting while driving and allow yourself to become distracted by your cell phone, it is only a matter of time before tragedy strikes.

The danger of texting behind the wheel

Texting while driving is incredibly dangerous, even if you just read a text message without responding. To check out a message on your cell phone, you will need to take at least one hand off the steering wheel to operate the device and take your eyes off the road in the process. This is if your cell phone is within reach. If not, you may endanger yourself further by rummaging in your purse or reaching across the vehicle to retrieve it. Plus, though you may think you can glance quickly at a new message without writing out a response, the temptation to reply to the text may be too great to resist.

Obviously, writing a text message is even more dangerous than reading one. To compose a text, you will need to take at least one hand off the wheel, your eyes off the road AND your mind off the task of driving to consider what you want to say. In this state, you will be completely oblivious to changes in the roadway environment.

Most drivers underestimate how long it will take them to read a text or compose a new message. As your mind will still be partially engaged in attempting to drive your vehicle, reading and understanding the content of a message will be harder and will take longer. That amounts to more time with your attention averted from the roadway. In addition, the movement of the vehicle may prevent you from focusing on the words or typing correctly. As you try to adjust your eyes or correct typing errors, the seconds are ticking away and your chances of having an accident grow ever greater.

Texting is more dangerous than drunk driving

Most drivers wouldn’t dream of hopping into the driver’s seat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, yet recent research has shown that this is less dangerous than texting while driving. One study examined the breaking distance of drivers under the influence of different distractions while traveling at 70 mph.

As compared to an unimpaired driver:

  • A driver who is legally drunk would take four feet longer to begin braking.
  • A driver who is sending an email would take 36 feet longer to begin braking.
  • A driver who is sending a text message would take 70 feet longer to begin braking.

This research demonstrates just how significantly texting while driving will impair your reaction time. Factoring in the time it would take to come to a complete stop having begun braking, avoiding a collision would be practically impossible while texting if an unexpected hazard appears on the roadway in front of you.

Texting laws and penalties

Only a handful of states have not imposed a restriction or ban on texting while driving. Most of the states which have introduced legislation to prevent drivers from texting have done so by imposing a complete ban on the activity while behind the wheel. In a few other states, partial bans or restrictions are in place.

In practically every state which restricts texting while driving, the ban is a “primary” law. This means that law enforcement officers have the right to pull over and cite a person for texting while driving, even if they are doing nothing else wrong. Only in Florida is the ban on texting while driving a “secondary” law. You can find out what this means by reading through the state-specific examples below.

We have also included some examples of the penalties which breaking a texting law may incur. As you can see, texting while driving will cost you. If not your life, then the contents of your wallet.

  • Alabama: All drivers are banned from texting. The penalty for texting while driving is a fine of $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second offense and $75 for any subsequent offense.
  • California:  All drivers are banned from texting. The penalty for texting while driving is a fine of $20 for the first offense and $50 for each additional offense.
  • Colorado: All drivers are banned from texting. The penalty for texting while driving is a fine of $50 for a first offense and $100 for a second offense. Both fines are accompanied by a $6 surcharge.
  • Florida: A limited ban on texting while driving applies to all drivers. As this is a secondary law, a driver may only be cited for texting if a law enforcement officer witnesses them committing another traffic violation while texting. For example, running a red light and texting at the same time.
  • Georgia: All drivers are banned from texting. The penalty for texting while driving is a fine of $150 and one point against the offender’s driving license.
  • Hawaii: All drivers are banned from texting. The penalty for texting while driving may be up to $200 for a first offense and $300 for a second offense committed within the same year.
  • Iowa: All drivers are banned from texting. The penalty for texting while driving is $30, or up to $1,000 if an accident is caused while a driver is texting.
  • Missouri: All drivers under 21 years-old are banned from texting. The penalty for texting while driving is a fine of up to $200 and points against the offender’s license.
  • Montana: Currently has no restrictions on cell phone use or texting while driving. Reckless driving laws may apply to a person who drives dangerously or causes a crash while texting or using a cell phone.
  • Nebraska: All drivers are banned from texting. The penalty for texting while driving can be up to $200 for a first offense, $300 for a second offense and $500 for any subsequent offense PLUS three points against the offender’s driving license.

The best sources of information on texting laws in your state are an up-to-date copy of the driver’s handbook or the official DMV website. Keep in mind that like general cell phone laws, texting bans and restrictions can vary across a single state, as different towns and counties often establish their own rules on the matter. For this reason, it is wise to do some research online if you are traveling to an unfamiliar area.

A deadly distraction

New traffic laws often take many years to construct and implement, as our country’s law-makers struggle to keep up with the ever-evolving dangers and challenges of driving. In the case of restrictions on texting while driving, a great deal has been achieved around the United States in the relatively short time that cell phones and similar electronic devices have been around. This rapid, country-wide establishment of anti-texting laws reflects the extreme danger that texting while driving poses. If you live in a minority state which does not currently ban texting while driving, you can bet that things will change in the not-too-distant future.

Whether you can legally text while driving or not is beside the point. It is a deadly driver distraction that we know claims thousands of innocent lives every year. As a new driver, you must make a commitment not to text and drive. Keep your cell phone on silent and out of arm’s reach while you’re in the car. Send important messages before setting off on your journey and if you need to check your cell phone, find a safe place to pull over before doing so.

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Distracted Driving

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The Risks of Distracted Driving

Any activity you engage in which does not immediately relate to the driving task is considered a distraction. This includes travel-related activities such as map reading or operating a navigation device. Irrespective of how important you may consider an activity to be, controlling your vehicle and monitoring the roadway demands your full attention and must take precedence.

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The Cognitive Basis of Distracted Driving

While we may often feel as if we are performing two or more tasks at the same time, we’re not, as the human brain is physically incapable of it. This means that you are only ever working on one task at a time. While driving and engaging in a distracting activity such as eating or combing your hair, your mind will not be focused on driving at all, for at least some of the time.

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Talking on The Cell Phone

Using a cell phone is one of the most risk-enhancing mistakes you can make while operating a moving vehicle. Many motorists assume that this only applies to hand-held cell phone use, though hands-free phone activity can be equally as dangerous.