January 7, 2022

Texting and Driving: Laws and Statistics

One-third of drivers have texted and driven within the past month.

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Texting and driving is not only dangerous, but it’s also illegal in every state, to varying degrees. If you text and drive repeatedly, you could be ticketed, fined, or even lose your driving privileges.

In this article, we explain how texting and driving fits into the larger issue of distracted driving in general, and what you can do to stay safe.

Texting and Driving

Texting and driving is illegal in every state, but there are some key differences to be aware of.

Laws

Of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., 47 have primary enforcement laws about texting and driving. Primary enforcement means that an officer can stop and ticket drivers solely for texting and driving, with no other offenses necessary.

In Nebraska and Ohio, there are secondary enforcement texting and driving laws, meaning that an officer can ticket a driver for texting and driving only when it’s paired with another offense like speeding.1 Finally, in Missouri, only drivers 21 and under aren’t allowed to text and drive, with primary enforcement allowed.2

The fines, penalties, and points that accompany a texting while driving citation vary by state. For example, the fines for texting and driving in New York range from $50 to $450, depending on the number of the total offenses. If you text and drive in California, the fine is cheaper: $20 for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses.

Here are the cell phone usage laws by state, compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

State Handheld device ban Cell phone ban for all young drivers Texting ban Enforcement
Alabama None 16-year-old drivers or 17-year-old drivers with intermediate licenses for less than 6 months Yes, all drivers Primary
Alaska None None Yes, all drivers Primary
Arizona Yes, all drivers Anyone with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses during the first 6 months after they receive their licenses Yes, all drivers Primary; secondary for drivers with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses during the first 6 months after they receive their licenses
Arkansas Yes, for drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 and for those in school and highway work zones Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
California Yes, all drivers Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary for handheld device use and texting by drivers 18 and older; secondary for drivers under the age of 18
Colorado None Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
Connecticut Yes, all drivers Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
Delaware Yes, all drivers Yes, anyone with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses Yes, all drivers Primary
District of Columbia Yes, all drivers Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
Florida Yes, but only in school and work zones None Yes, all drivers Primary
Georgia Yes, all drivers None Yes, all drivers Primary
Hawaii Yes, all drivers Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
Idaho Yes, all drivers None Yes, all drivers Primary
Illinois Yes, all drivers Yes, drivers and learner’s permit holders under the age of 19 Yes, all drivers Primary
Indiana Yes, all drivers Yes, drivers younger than 21 Yes, all drivers Primary
Iowa None Yes, anyone with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses Yes, all drivers Primary
Kansas None Yes, anyone with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses Yes, all drivers Primary
Kentucky None Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
Louisiana Yes, for drivers in signed school zones Yes, all novice drivers Yes, all drivers Primary; secondary for novice drivers ages 18 and above
Maine Yes, all drivers Yes, anyone with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses Yes, all drivers Primary
Maryland Yes, all drivers Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
Massachusetts Yes, all drivers Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
Michigan None Yes, anyone with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses levels 1 and 2; okay to use integrated voice-operated systems Yes, all drivers Primary
Minnesota Yes, all drivers Yes, anyone with a learner’s permit and provisional licenses during the first year after licensing Yes, all drivers Primary
Mississippi None None Yes, all drivers Primary
Missouri None None Yes, drivers 21 and younger Primary
Montana None None None Not applicable
Nebraska None Yes, anyone with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Secondary
Nevada Yes, all drivers None Yes, all drivers Primary
New Hampshire Yes, all drivers Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
New Jersey Yes, all drivers Yes, anyone with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses Yes, all drivers Primary
New Mexico None Yes, anyone with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses Yes, all drivers Primary
New York Yes, all drivers None Yes, all drivers Primary
North Carolina None Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
North Dakota None Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
Ohio None Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Secondary; primary for drivers under the age of 18
Oklahoma Yes, anyone with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses None Yes, all drivers Primary
Oregon Yes, all drivers Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
Pennsylvania None None Yes, all drivers Primary
Rhode Island Yes, all drivers Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
South Carolina None None Yes, all drivers Primary
South Dakota None Yes, anyone with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses Yes, all drivers Secondary; primary for anyone with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses
Tennessee Yes, all drivers Yes, anyone with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses Yes, all drivers Primary
Texas Yes, for anyone driving in school crossing zones and on public school property during the times a reduced speed limit applies Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
Utah None Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
Vermont Yes, all drivers Yes, drivers under the age of 18 Yes, all drivers Primary
Virginia Yes, all drivers None Yes, all drivers Primary
Washington Yes, all drivers Yes, anyone with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses Yes, all drivers Primary
West Virginia Yes, all drivers Yes, drivers under the age of 18 who hold either a learner’s permit or an intermediate license Yes, all drivers Primary
Wisconsin Yes, for anyone driving in highway construction areas Yes, anyone with learner’s permits and intermediate licenses Yes, all drivers Primary
Wyoming None None Yes, all drivers Primary

To see the laws in more detail, check out the IIHS website, linked below.3

Statistics

Here are some shocking statistics regarding texting and driving:

  • From 2018 to 2020, the number of people who reported to have driven and texted or emailed in the past 30 days decreased from 41 percent to 34 percent.
  • In 2020, over 95 percent of people said that texting or emailing while driving is unacceptable, a 2 percent increase from 2018.4
  • Drivers are 23 percent more likely to be involved in collisions if they text while driving versus driving only.
  • While it takes the average person 4.6 seconds to read or send a text message, the average collision takes less than three seconds.
  • If you’re driving 55 miles an hour, reading or sending a text would be like driving the long way down a football field with a blindfold on.

Teens generally text and drive more than adults do. Here are some teen-specific texting and driving statistics:

  • In 2019, 39 percent of high school students who had driven in the past month said they had texted or emailed while driving on at least one occasion.
Age Percentage of drivers who had texted or emailed while driving in the past 30 days
14 16%
15 16%
16 31%
17 51%
18 and older 60%
  • As teens get older, they are more likely to text and email while they drive. While only 16 percent of 14-year-olds reported having texted or emailed while driving, 60 percent of those 18 and older had, an increase of 275 percent.
Race Percentage of drivers who had texted or emailed while driving in the past 30 days
White 44%
Black 30%
Hispanic 35%
  • Texting and driving is most common among white teens, who text and email while driving 32 percent more than black teens and 20 percent more than Hispanic teens.
  • The likelihood of texting and driving didn’t vary based on students’ grades.
  • Students who texted while driving were more likely to report doing other unsafe transportation behaviors like not wearing seat belts or being involved with drunk driving, either as a passenger or as a driver.

If you’re a teen driver and you need auto insurance, learn more about the cost of auto insurance for teens, the cost of auto insurance for 16-year-olds, the cost of auto insurance for 17-year-olds, the cost of auto insurance for 18-year-olds, and the cost of auto insurance for 19-year-olds.

FYI

For teens, auto insurance costs are already high due to their lack of driving experience and greater likelihood of collisions. However, getting ticketed for texting and driving will increase the cost of auto insurance even more.

Distracted Driving

Texting is only one example of distracted driving, which is divided into three types.

What Is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is driving while distracted, or trying to multitask while driving.

Types

The three types of distracted driving are as follows:

  • Visual: Taking your eyes off the road
  • Cognitive: Taking your mind off of driving
  • Manual: Taking your hands off the wheel

Examples

Within the three types of distracted driving, here are some ways it can play out:

  • Texting
  • Talking on the phone
  • Playing a game
  • Looking at photos
  • Eating or drinking
  • Attending to children5

Consequences

While some forms of distracted driving, like looking at your phone at a stop sign, may not seem like a big deal, they can have grave consequences such as:

  • Car accidents: Collisions of any kind could lead to injuries, deaths, and having to pay out of pocket for any bodily injury or property damage costs. Learn more about collision coverage, bodily injury coverage, and property damage coverage.
  • Increased auto insurance premiums: Accidents cause auto insurance costs to rise, as your driving record will be affected negatively.
  • Legal fines and penalties: You may face fines, penalties, or points. And if someone is killed or injured, you could face community service, a civil suit, or even jail time.
  • Lost driving privileges: If you have too many points, your license could be suspended or revoked.6

Distracted Driving Statistics

Here are some statistics about distracted driving, which includes texting and driving, all cell phone use, and all forms of multitasking:

  • In 2019, there were 3,142 distracted driving incidents, which includes, but is not limited to, texting and driving. Distracted driving incidents made up about 9 percent of all fatalities, a nearly 10 percent increase from the previous year.
  • Deaths from distracted driving, which includes texting and driving, have been on the decline since 2015 after peaking at 3,526. In 2018, there were 2,841 deaths from distracted driving, a decrease of nearly 20 percent.
Year Number of distracted driving deaths
2011 3,360
2012 3,380
2013 3,169
2014 3,197
2015 3,526
2016 3,490
2017 3,242
2018 2,841
Total 26,205
  • Still, from 2011 to 2018, there were over 26,000 deaths from distracted driving, according to the United States Department of Transportation.7
  • Every day, about eight people in the U.S. die from distracted driving.
  • About 20 percent of the people killed in distracted driving accidents weren’t in vehicles, but were outside vehicles walking, riding bikes, etc.
  • In 2018, one in four people involved in fatal distracted driving accidents were between the ages of 20 and 29.9

How to Prevent Texting and Driving Accidents

Fortunately, these types of accidents are entirely preventable. When you’re driving, be sure to follow these steps:

  1. Concentrate on the task of driving.
  2. Don’t use any electronic devices while driving.
  3. In particular, don’t use your cell phone while driving, even at red lights.
  4. If you require phone use while driving, use voice assistants like Siri or Google Assistant, if you’re allowed to use hands-free devices in your state.
  5. Don’t text and drive.
  6. Follow speed limits.
  7. Don’t drive when you’re drunk, tipsy, or tired.
  8. Don’t eat or drink while driving.
  9. Don’t put on makeup while driving.
  10. Don’t read while driving.
  11. Don’t watch videos while driving.
  12. If something falls to the floor, pull over and park before you reach for it.
  13. Speak up if you’re with a distracted driver.

TIP

Driving with someone who’s distracted? Help them out by performing tasks for them, like sending texts from their phone.

Legal Defenses Against Texting and Driving Tickets

If you get a ticket for texting while driving and you’re not guilty, what are your possible defenses? Here are some options:

  • The police officer made a mistake and you weren’t texting and driving at all.
  • You fit one of the exceptions, like you were using a hands-free feature like Siri in a state such as California, given you’re over the age of 18.
  • Your vehicle was parked.

Of course, your possible defenses depend on your state, so read your state’s driving laws to see your options, or consult a traffic attorney.

Recap

That’s it for this auto insurance article, but if you want to learn more, keep reading for answers to our frequently asked questions about texting and driving.

Frequently Asked Questions

Want to learn even more about texting while driving and distracted driving in general? Read our FAQs below.

How dangerous is texting while driving?

Texting and driving is very dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people texting while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in collisions than people not texting while driving. While it takes an average of 4.6 seconds to read a text message, collisions take less than three seconds.

What can happen when you text and drive?

When you text and drive, you put yourself at risk of:

  • Collisions
  • Bodily injury
  • Property damage
  • Death
  • Increased auto insurance rates
  • Having to pay out of pocket for bodily injury and/or property damage liability
  • Civil suits
  • Driver’s license suspensions or revocations
  • Car registration suspensions or revocations
  • Fines
  • Penalties
  • Points
  • Criminal charges, if there are any serious injuries or deaths

How many deaths from texting and driving were there in 2020?

As of January 2022, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the CDC has released the number of deaths from texting and driving in 2020. However, in 2019, there were 3,142 deaths from distracted driving, a 10 percent increase from 2018, according to NHTSA. We can expect lower numbers in 2020 due to decreased driving during the COVID-19 pandemic, however.

How many car accidents are caused by alcohol?

In 2019, there were 10,142 alcohol-related driving fatalities, making up 28 percent of all fatalities overall. This was a 5 percent decrease from 2018, according to data from NHTSA.

Citations

  1. Title XIX Motor Vehicles, Watercraft and Aviation, Chapter 304. Revisor of Missouri. (2013, Aug 28).
    https://revisor.mo.gov/main/OneSection.aspx?section=304.820

  2. State Cellphone Use While Driving Laws. National Conference of State Legislature. (2022).
    https://app.powerbi.com/view?r=eyJrIjoiMDBhNDNkZjQtMDg2OS00YzZkLWJhZWYtYzM1MTRlZGIxZTI4IiwidCI6
    IjM4MmZiOGIwLTRkYzMtNDEwNy04MGJkLTM1OTViMjQzMmZhZSIsImMiOjZ9&pageName=ReportSection

  3. Cellphone use laws by state. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute. (2022).
    https://www.iihs.org/topics/distracted-driving/cellphone-use-laws#fn5

  4. AAA Finds Better Behavior Behind the Wheel, But There’s Room for Improvement. AAA Newsroom. (2021, Oct. 28).
    https://newsroom.aaa.com/2021/10/aaa-finds-better-behavior-behind-the-wheel-but-theres-room-for-improvement/

  5. Traffic Safety Partners ​Stress Dangers of Distracted Driving. California Highway Patrol. (2021, Apr 1).
    https://www.chp.ca.gov/PressReleases/Pages/TRAFFIC-SAFETY-PARTNERS-STRESS-DANGERS-OF-DISTRACTED-DRIVING.aspx

  6. Consequences of Distracted Driving. HG.org Legal Resources. (2022).
    https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/consequences-of-distracted-driving-35259

  7. Traffic Safety Facts Research Note: Distracted Driving 2013. U.S. Department of Transportation. (2015, Apr).
    https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812132#:~:text=In%202013
    %2C%20there%20were%203%2C154,crashes%20involv%2D%20ing%20distracted%20drivers.&text
    =Ten%20percent%20of%20all%20drivers,the%20time%20of%20the%20crashes

  8. Transportation Safety: Distracted Driving. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, Mar 2).
    https://www.cdc.gov/transportationsafety/distracted_driving/index.html