Many states are putting laws into place that discourage and penalize distracted driving (which includes phone use among other things). While it's important to understand the laws in your area, the safest bet, wherever you are, is to avoid using your phone altogether.
There's no denying distracted driving is dangerous. In 2017 alone, 3,166 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. (NHTSA) While most drivers understand the risks and consequences of texting while driving (and it's been outlawed in 48 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands), as many as 50% of drivers admitted to having sent a text message, read a message, or checked their phone's GPS while driving. (Source) Our phones may be addicting, but have they wiped out our common sense?
To address this serious public safety concern, a wave of public service announcements, social media campaigns, and community-based efforts were launched with one goal in mind - convince us to stop using phones while driving. Many states have gone beyond the original "texting-ban" to include broader restrictions about phone use and steeper penalties to increase compliance.
Today, 21 states and Washington, D.C. have banned the use of hand-held mobile devices for all drivers. That means it's illegal to hold your phone while driving, but legal to use your phone via Bluetooth connectivity i.e. "hands-free."
38 states and Washington, D.C. have completely banned cell phone use for novice and teen drivers.
Massachusetts, for example, signed a hand-held cell phone ban into law late 2019, but offered residents a 90-day grace period in which warnings were issued. At the end of March 2020, drivers face fines of up to $500 for multiple offenses, plus an insurance surcharge and mandatory completion of a distracted driving course
There are two ways to get in trouble for breaking a distracted driving law, varied by state: 1) Primary enforcement - this means you can get pulled over for the phone-related infraction in and of itself. 2) Secondary enforcement - this means you can be cited for the phone-related infraction only if you've been pulled over for something else (like speeding or a traffic violation).
Curious about the laws in your state? The Governors Highway Safety Association provides a listing of laws and regulations, searchable by state. Penalties and fines for distracted driving will vary based on state and even locality.
How to be a safer driver
Phones should be a blessing, not a source of tragedy. Here are some commonsense tips for safer phone use:
- Put down the phone. Remember that no text, call, or missed turn is more important than your safety and others. If it can wait until you get there, let it. Think you'll be tempted? Keep your phone in your trunk or out of reach.
- Use a phone mount. Even in states with some of the strictest distracted driving laws, drivers can use a dash or windshield-mounted phone holder. The idea is you can keep your hands on the wheel and make quick glances at your phone for things like GPS directions.
- Go hands-free with Voice-to-Text, Siri, Alexa and/or Android Assistant. If you must communicate while on the road, simply tell your phone what to do and keep your attention focused on driving. Sure, there's some potential for hilarious voice-to-text errors (another blog on that later), but it's a solid option in a pinch.
"Hey Siri - text mom."
"What would you like to say?"
"Running about 5 minutes late."
"Your message to mom says "Running about 5 minutes late." Ready to send it?
- Pause conversations gracefully. This may require some upfront communication to avoid seeming crazy, but if you're texting and need to begin driving, consider sending an "X" or specific emoji (🚗🚫⌛) to let the person know you've paused the conversation. Knowing they aren't waiting for you to respond may reduce your sense of urgency. Your phone may also have settings to avoid phone use while driving.
On your iPhone, launch Settings→Do Not Disturb→ Do Not Disturb While Driving → Auto-Reply → then edit your message in the text box.
- Accountability (aka positive peer pressure). Tell family and friends you've committed to safe driving. Have them help keep you honest and remind you to stay off your phone when you're driving. Even a Kindergartener will welcome the opportunity to remind their parents about "the rules."
In closing, we'll state the obvious: we are not safety experts or lawyers or law enforcement of any variety. We are simply friends and fellow citizens reminding you (and ourselves) to keep your eyes on the road and your focus on driving.
🚗🚫⌛for now 😊
Once you're parked safely, visit www.reachmobile.com/plans to check out our commonsense approach to mobile service.