Cellphones and texting

July 2014

Talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving is banned in 13 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia.

The use of all cellphones by novice drivers is restricted in 36 states and the District of Columbia.

Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 44 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, novice drivers are banned from texting in four states (Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas).

Many localities have enacted their own bans on cellphones or text messaging. In some but not all states, local jurisdictions need specific statutory authority to do so. In addition, most school bus drivers are banned from texting and using hand-held cellphones by state code, regulation or school district policy.

The table and maps below show the states that have cellphone laws, whether they specifically ban text messaging, and whether they are enforced as primary or secondary laws. Under secondary laws, an officer must have some other reason to stop a vehicle before citing a driver for using a cellphone. Laws without this restriction are called primary.

Laws restricting cellphone use and texting  
State Hand-held ban Young drivers all cellphone ban Texting ban Enforcement
Alabama no 16-year-old drivers; 17-year-old drivers who have held an intermediate license for fewer than 6 months all drivers primary: texting by all drivers; secondary: cellphone use by young drivers
Alaska no no all drivers primary
Arizona no no no not applicable
Arkansas drivers 18 or older but younger than 21; school and highway work zones drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary: texting by all drivers and cellphone use by school bus drivers; secondary: cellphone use by young drivers, drivers in school and work zones1
California all drivers drivers younger than 18 all drivers2 primary: hand-held and texting by drivers 18 and older; secondary: drivers younger than 181
Colorado no drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary
Connecticut all drivers drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary
Delaware all drivers learner's permit and intermediate license holders all drivers primary
District of Columbia all drivers learner's permit holders all drivers primary
Florida no no all drivers secondary
Georgia no drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary
Hawaii all drivers drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary
Idaho no no all drivers primary
Illinois all drivers drivers younger than 19 and learner's permit holders younger than 19 all drivers primary
Indiana no drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary
Iowa no learner's permit and intermediate license holders all drivers primary for learner's permit and intermediate license holders; secondary for texting
Kansas no learner's permit and intermediate license holders all drivers primary
Kentucky no drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary
Louisiana drivers in signed school zones; with respect to novice drivers, see footnote3 (effective 08/01/14) all novice drivers, see footnote for detail3 all drivers primary3
Maine no learner's permit and intermediate license holders all drivers primary
Maryland all drivers drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary
Massachusetts no drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary
Michigan no learner's permit and intermediate license holders (level 1 and 2); integrated voice-operated systems excepted all drivers primary
Minnesota no learner's permit holders and provisional license holders during the first 12 months after licensing all drivers primary
Mississippi no no learner's permit and intermediate license holders and school bus drivers primary
Missouri no no drivers 21 and younger primary
Montana no no no not applicable
Nebraska no learner's permit and intermediate license holders younger than 18 all drivers secondary
Nevada all drivers no all drivers primary
New Hampshire no no all drivers primary
New Jersey all drivers learner's permit and intermediate license holders all drivers primary
New Mexico no learner's permit and intermediate license holders all drivers primary
New York all drivers no all drivers primary
North Carolina no drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary
North Dakota no drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary
Ohio no drivers younger than 184 all drivers primary for drivers younger than 18; secondary for texting4
Oklahoma learner's permit and intermediate license holders no5 learner's permit holders, intermediate license holders, school bus drivers and public transit drivers primary
Oregon all drivers drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary
Pennsylvania no no all drivers primary
Rhode Island no drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary
South Carolina no no all drivers primary
South Dakota no learner's permit and intermediate license holders all drivers secondary
Tennessee no learner's permit and intermediate license holders all drivers primary
Texas drivers in school crossing zones and on public school property during the time the reduced speed limit applies drivers younger than 18 drivers in school crossing zones and on public school property during the time the reduced speed limit applies (effective 09/01/13); bus drivers with minor passengers; drivers younger than 18 primary
Utah no6 drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary6
Vermont all drivers (effective 10/01/14) drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary
Virginia no drivers younger than 18 all drivers primary; secondary for drivers younger than 18
Washington all drivers learner's permit and intermediate license holders all drivers primary
West Virginia all drivers drivers younger than 18 who hold either a learner's permit or an intermediate license all drivers primary
Wisconsin no learner's permit and intermediate license holders all drivers primary
Wyoming no no all drivers primary

1The laws in Arkansas and California prohibit police from stopping a vehicle to determine if a driver is in compliance with the law. Clearly, that language prohibits the use of checkpoints to enforce the law, but it has been interpreted as the functional equivalent of secondary provisions that typically state the officer may not stop someone suspected of a violation unless there is other, independent, cause for a stop.

2California drivers who are 18 and older may dictate, send or listen to text-based messages if they're using voice-activated, hands-free devices.

3In Louisiana, all learner's permit holders, irrespective of age, and all intermediate license holders are prohibited from driving while using a hand-held cellphone. All drivers younger than 18 are prohibited from using any cellphone. All drivers, irrespective of age, issued a first driver’s license are prohibited from using a cellphone for one year. The cellphone ban is secondary for novice drivers ages 18 and older.

4In Ohio, the text messaging ban for all drivers and the all device ban for young drivers are currently scheduled to become effective on the 91st day after the act is filed with the Secretary of State, approximately Aug. 30, 2012. There will be a 6 month warning period before citations are issued.

5In Oklahoma, learner's permit and intermediate license holders are banned from using a hand-held electronic device while operating a motor vehicle except in life-threatening emergencies.

6In 2007, Utah defined careless driving as committing a moving violation (other than speeding) while distracted by use of a handheld cellphone or other activities not related to driving. IIHS reported this as the functional equivalent of a secondary law. In 2012, Utah’s law was modified to specify that a person is not prohibited from using a handheld wireless device while operating a moving motor vehicle when making or receiving a telephone call. In 2014, Utah again amended its law by removing the act of talking on a hand-held phone from the section describing careless driving. In addition, the most recent iteration bans drivers from dialing a hand-held phone and caps the maximum fine at $100 for a first offense provided the offender inflicted no bodily harm.