Texting while driving laws prohibit the use of electronic devices to write, send or read messages while driving. In addition to text messages sent by mobile phones, these laws typically prohibit writing, sending or reading similar types of messages -- such as emails, instant messages or other Internet-based messages -- while driving. The following is a primer on traffic laws prohibiting texting while driving.
State and Local Texting While Driving Laws
Like other traffic laws, texting while driving laws come from state and local governments (municipalities and counties). While federal laws have been enacted to ban texting while driving by certain federal employees, for most people the legal implications of texting while driving depend on state and local law.
A fast growing number of states have enacted laws specifically banning texting while driving. In addition, many counties and municipalities have enacted laws against texting while driving. The danger posed when drivers take their eyes off the road to read, type or send a message has caused texting while driving laws to multiply even faster than laws punishing drivers who use handheld mobile phones.
Some states which have not specifically banned texting while driving for adults have banned it for "novice drivers" -- meaning young or new drivers, depending on the state. Some novice driver texting laws punish texting by drivers under 18, while others apply the ban to all drivers under 21. Even older drivers fall into some states' novice driver texting laws if they are driving under a learner's permit, provisional license or intermediate license.
Some states without text message bans for all drivers have banned texting while driving by school bus drivers, public transit drivers, and drivers in school zones.
As these laws vary greatly from state to state, be sure to consult your state's texting while driving laws.
Furthermore, it is important to remember that even in places without specific laws against texting while driving, doing it still might break the law. Texting while driving may violate more general distracted driving laws, which prohibit a wide variety of activities while driving.
Enforcement of Texting While Driving Laws
In the vast majority of places which have specific texting while driving laws, those laws allow what is called "primary enforcement." This means that police officers may pull over and cite drivers even if they observe no other violation. In very few jurisdictions, officers may enforce driving while texting violations only when pulling over and citing a driver for another traffic violation. Most states, even those which require a separate violation to cite a driver for a handheld cell phone violation, don't require any separate violation to cite a driver for texting while driving.
Punishment for Texting While Driving
Punishment for texting while driving offenses varies by jurisdiction. Punishments include fines, which grow with repeat offenses, along with points against the driver's license in states which use point systems. Under some state laws, serious repeat offenders may even face jail time.
In the event that texting while driving helps cause an accident, police may also cite the driver for more serious violations including reckless driving.
Other Legal Ramifications
As with other forms of distracted driving, texting while driving poses dangers far beyond traffic tickets. Foremost, texting while behind the wheel may cause potentially deadly accidents. Secondly, in any lawsuits stemming from an accident, evidence of texting while driving may prove negligence or recklessness, which often determines the outcome of an auto injury lawsuit. If a texting driver wants to sue someone else over an accident, the texting may constitute comparative or contributory negligence, and prevent the texting driver from obtaining compensation.
Consult an Experienced Traffic Ticket Lawyer
If you've been cited for texting while driving, you may need an experienced traffic ticket lawyer to help you. Texting while driving penalties can be steep. A skilled attorney who specializes in defending traffic cases will evaluate all the evidence to ensure that your legal rights are protected.