Texting & Driving Laws: Is it Illegal in Your State?

April 12, 2018

texting and driving is illegal

View Texting and Driving Laws by State

A 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 difference in distracted driving enforcement throughout the states isn’t unusual. Texting and driving laws and punishments 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.

Did you know: “By taking your eyes off the road for 2 seconds while traveling 65 m.p.h., you will have covered the distance of a little over half a football field. This is the truth. Do the math.”

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 2018, the majority of states have a ban on texting and driving. According to the Insurance Institue for Highway Safety, 47 states plus Washington D.C. ban text messaging for all drivers. All but four states have primary enforcement, which means the police can pull you over for texting alone — they don’t need another reason, like speeding or not wearing a seatbelt.

Many states are now even banning hand-held use of cell phones and electronic devices altogether. Lawmakers hope that these cell phone laws will cut down on the 391,000 injuries and 3,477 deaths caused each year by distracted driving. While Maryland moves in the right direction to ensure driver safety, there are still three states who have not even banned texting and driving yet. Come on Arizona, Missouri, and Montana!

What Are Texting and Driving Penalties?

A 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 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. Some auto insurance companies, like Allstate, may even start using data collected by your phone while you’re driving to see if you are, in fact, texting and driving. With the use of your smartphone’s gyroscope and accelerometer, they can decipher if you are using your phone when driving. This data can be used to either increase your rates or reward you if you just put the phone down.

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 seem 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.

Texting and Driving Laws by State









District of Columbia





















New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota





Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota







West Virginia



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

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