Will Fines for Using Your Phone While Driving Make Road Safer?

September 27, 2016

Texting and Driving Car WreckA Mississippi driver viewed the dating profiles of 45 women on his cell phone before causing a wreck that killed a 24-year-old college student. He was found guilty of manslaughter under Alabama’s texting and driving laws, which carries up to 20 years in prison.

A Minnesota woman sent and received 240 texts while driving one morning, before hitting and killing a motorcyclist on a highway exit ramp. She was acquitted of felony criminal vehicular homicide and instead convicted of careless driving, which carries a penalty of a month in jail and $50,000 in restitution.

This huge disparity in outcomes isn’t unusual. Texting and driving laws and enforcement vary dramatically from state to state and case to case. So what’s the deal? Are new laws preventing texting and driving accidents, or are they pointless? We thought we’d find out.

Texting and Driving Laws, State by State

Who’s texting and driving? Everyone. Drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes, the CDC says, but they’re not the only ones at fault. A survey by AT&T found that more adults than teens — 49 percent vs. 43 percent — admit they text and drive.

As of 2016, most states place some kind of restriction on texting and driving. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 46 states plus D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers. All but five states have primary enforcement, which means the police can pull you over for texting alone — they don’t need another reason, like speeding.

As of October 1, Maryland has strengthened their laws to ban any handheld device usage while driving. Similar to texting and driving in the state, handheld use will be a primary offense. Maryland is joining the ranks of states including California, Connecticut, Delaware and Illinois that enacted this ban. Lawmakers hope that the cellphone law will cut down on the 30,000 injuries a year caused by distracted driving. While Maryland moves in the right direction to ensure driver safety, there are still four states who have not even banned texting and driving yet.

What about the four states where you can legally text at 60 mph?

  • In Missouri, you can’t text and drive if you’re under 21.
  • In Texas, you can’t if you’re under 18, or driving in a school zone; and school bus drivers can’t text if they’re driving young passengers.
  • In Arizona, school bus drivers can’t use phones.
  • In Montana, anything goes.

What Are Texting and Driving Penalties?

Fines for Texting and DrivingA law is only as strong as the penalty for breaking it. If you get caught texting and driving, the consequences vary dramatically depending on your state. In California, for instance, it’s no big deal. The base fine for texting while driving is $20 for the first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.

In Alaska, however, texting and driving laws are really, really serious. Get caught and you could be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $50,000 fine. Kill someone while you’re texting and driving, and you could be looking at 20 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. That’s no joke.

Keep in mind that getting charged with texting and driving can also raise your car insurance rates, if your state assigns points for a conviction. And if you cause an accident, expect your insurance to go way, way up.

So, Do Texting and Driving Laws Work?

The answer is yes, a group of researchers found out: Having some kind of texting law was linked to a 2.3 percent decrease in overall traffic fatalities for all drivers. They also discovered that…

  • Secondary texting-and-driving laws are pretty useless. If a police officer sees you texting but can’t pull you over unless you’re also speeding, chances are you’ll never get caught. Florida’s one of those states with a secondary law, and from the law’s passage in 2013 through Jan. 2015, it resulted in only 2,061 citations statewide.
  • Targeting teens seems to work. Specifically banning teen drivers from texting reduced traffic deaths in that group by 11 percent.
  • Banning all handheld devices is a good idea. Laws that prohibit using any device while driving reduced traffic deaths for adults ages 22 to 64.

The upshot: Whatever your local laws may be, pleeeeeeeease don’t text and drive. If you’re having trouble resisting the urge, try these tips on how to stop texting and driving.

While you’re at it, lower your car insurance by shopping around on compare.com. You can get multiple free car insurance quotes in minutes.

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