When you're traveling, make sure to know the local laws about mobile phone use and text messaging while driving. Some infractions carry weighty fines and even potential jail time.
Many of us want the right to talk and text in our cars, but study after study shows that talking or texting while driving causes accidents. Distracted-driving laws result from battles between legislators, law enforcement, insurance companies, and individuals. Opponents of the laws claim that they're a way for law enforcement to beef up revenue from traffic fines at the expense of individual liberties. Whatever your viewpoint is, this guide should help on your next trip.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been calling for a complete ban on talking and texting while driving, even with hands-free devices. While no states have a complete ban on cell phones while driving, there are bans in some states for drivers who operate certain kinds of vehicles, as well as for beginning drivers. If you are between 16 to 20 years old and planning a road trip, in some places you can be charged even for talking on a hands-free phone behind the wheel.
This list is derived from available regulations as of December 2011.
Novice drivers 16 or 17 years old who have had a drivers license less than six months are under a total cell phone call and texting ban. Upcoming legislation in 2012 may ban all texting.
All drivers are banned from text messaging.
ArizonaThere is a ban on all cell phone use for bus drivers, and on text messaging within the city of Phoenix.
ArkansasTexting while driving is banned in Arkansas. Arkansas also bans hand-held phones for drivers between the ages of 18 and 20, and all cell phone use for school bus drivers and drivers under 18. All cell phone use, including hands-free, is illegal in school or highway work zones.
CaliforniaCalifornia bans texting while driving for all drivers and any cell phone use at all for school bus drivers and drivers under 18. They also ban all handheld use of cell phones.
ColoradoColorado bans any cell phone use including hands-free devices, for drivers under 18 and any drivers with an instruction permit. Texting is illegal for everyone.
ConnecticutAll handheld cell use and texting is banned. School bus drivers and drivers under 18 cannot use mobile phones at all, even with a hands-free device. Drivers must not use video game players and DVD players.
DelawareAll handheld cell use, including texting, is banned. School bus drivers and those with a learner’s or intermediate license cannot use a cell at all.
District of ColumbiaNo handheld cells use is permitted in Washington. School bus drivers and those with learner’s permits are banned from using cell phoness, while texting is illegal for everyone.
FloridaThere are no prohibitions on texting or use of cell phones.
GeorgiaTexting is banned, as is all mobile phone use for school bus drivers and those under 18. There are no restrictions on handheld cell use for anyone else.
GuamThe island territory of Guam only bans texting while driving.
HawaiiNo handheld use of cell phones or texting while driving is permitted in any of Hawaii’s counties.
IdahoWhile there are no current regulations covering distracted driving, a bill is expected to pass in 2012 that will ban texting while driving.
IllinoisSchool bus drivers and those under the age of 19 cannot use mobile phones at all. Texting while driving is banned completely for everyone. While the state does not regulate the use of handheld cells while driving, it is illegal in the city of Chicago. Any phone use at all, hands-free or hand-held, is illegal statewide in school and construction zones.
IndianaDrivers under 18 are banned from using mobile phones, while text messaging is illegal for any driver. There are no restrictions on handheld cell use for drivers 18 and over.
IowaThose with a Restricted or Intermediate license may not use a mobile phone at all. There is a ban on texting while driving in Iowa.
KansasDrivers with a learner’s or intermediate license are restricted from any mobile phone use. There is a texting while driving ban for everyone in Kansas, and a ban on handheld use in the city of Manhattan.
KentuckySchool bus drivers may not use cells for unofficial business, whether they're driving or not. Those under 18 cannot use cells at all. A statewide text messaging ban is in effect.
LouisianaThose with a learner’s or intermediate license may not use hand-held cells. School bus drivers, drivers in their first year of driving, and drivers under 18 may not use cells at all. There is a total text messaging ban in the state.
MaineThose under 18 and those with a learner’s or intermediate driver’s permit may not use mobile phones, and text messaging is completely illegal for every driver. A general distracted-driving law allows officers to charge drivers for a broader range of distracted-driving behavior in the event of an accident.
MarylandMaryland has banned all hand-held cell phone use and text messaging. Those with intermediate or learner’s licenses are banned from using cells behind the wheel at all, as are drivers under the age of 18.
MassachusettsSchool bus drivers, public transit drivers, and drivers under 18 are banned from all cell phone use, and the state has implemented a complete texting while driving ban.
MichiganThere is a complete texting-while-driving ban. Detroit drivers must use hands-free devices to make calls.
Next page: The rest of the states and foreign countries...
MinnesotaNo text messaging or Internet use is allowed for any drivers. Drivers under 18 and those with intermediate or learner’s licenses cannot use cell phones at all.
MississippiSchool bus drivers may not use cell phones at all, and there is a statewide ban on texting while driving.
MissouriThose under 21 may not text while driving.
MontanaWhile there are no statewide prohibitions, the cities of Butte, Helena, Billings, and Whitefish ban hand-held device use while driving. Helena prohibits both hand-held phone use and texting.
NebraskaDrivers under 18 with learner’s or intermediate licenses may not use cells at all. There is a texting-while-driving ban in Nebraska.
NevadaA ban on hand-held use and texting while driving throughout Nevada goes into effect January 1, 2012.
New HampshireNew Hampshire completely bans texting while driving. While there are no limits on cell use, drivers cannot watch television.
New JerseyThere is a total ban on hand-held calls and text messaging while driving. School bus drivers and drivers under 21 with a permit or provisional license cannot use cells at all.
New MexicoDrivers of state-owned vehicles may not use hand-held phones. Those with a provisional or learner’s license may not use a cell phone or do text messaging. All other drivers face no restrictions, except for those in the city of Las Cruces, which has a ban on hand-held calls.
New YorkStatewide, there is a hand-held and texting while driving ban. New York City cabbies may not use cell phones at all.
North CarolinaSchool bus drivers and drivers with provisional licenses under 18 may not use mobile phones. A loophole for drivers under 18 allows them to call their parents. A complete texting-while-driving ban includes email and Internet use.
North DakotaThose under the age of 18 will be banned from using cells as of January 1, 2012. There is a complete texting-while-driving ban.
OhioThere is no statewide regulation of distracted driving. The cities of Wauseon, Toledo, Columbus, Delaware, Belpre, Berea, Zanesville, Cincinatti, Cleveland Heights, Gahanna, Worthington, Hilliard, North Royalton, Summit County, Huron, and Bexley have all outlawed texting while driving. South Euclid and North Olmstead have banned both hand-held use and text messaging.
OklahomaDrivers with learner’s or intermediate licenses must use a hands-free kit with cells and are banned from text messaging. School bus drivers may not use cells or text messaging at all.
OregonThere is a ban on hand-held phone calling and texting statewide. Those under 18 cannot use cell phones behind the wheel.
PennsylvaniaSo far the state has only banned texting while driving, and that law goes into effect in March of 2012. While some local ordinances ban the use of handhelds while driving, some are being thrown out by judges. It’s best to check with your specific destination if you are traveling to Pennsylvania--or use a hands-free kit to be safe.
Rhode IslandNo texting while driving is allowed. School bus drivers and drivers under 18 cannot use cells at all.
South CarolinaThere are no current distracted-driving laws.
South DakotaNo distracted driving regulations are in place.
TennesseeDrivers with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses may not use a mobile phone at all. School bus drivers cannot use a cell when they have passengers. Text messaging is prohibited completely, and video monitors for use by the driver are illegal.
TexasDrivers under 18 and learner’s permit holders in their first six months of driving are banned from any cell use. School bus drivers cannot use a cell when they have children on the bus. No driver may use a cell phone in a school zone, whether driving or stationary. The cities of Nacogdoches, Arlington, and McAllen have banned texting while driving. El Paso and Alvin have banned handhelds and texting while driving. Other cities have enacted distracted-driving laws. Check with your rental car outlet, friends, or family in your destination city, as the laws in a few Texan cities are currently being made or have recently changed.
UtahText messaging is illegal while driving. While an outright ban on handhelds by drivers has resisted legislation, Utah does have a careless-driving law that includes cell phones as a potential distraction.
VermontDrivers under 18 cannot use a cell at all, and there is a total texting-while-driving ban.
VirginiaSchool bus drivers and drivers under 18 may not use a cell. Virginia has enacted a complete ban on text messaging.
Virgin IslandsThere is a complete ban on handheld phone use in the unincorporated U.S. Virgin Islands. There are no other restrictions.
WashingtonA complete ban on using a phone in-hand exists in the state of Washington, as does a complete texting-while-driving ban. Those with a learner’s or intermediate license may not use a cell at all.
West VirginiaSchool bus drivers and drivers under 18 with a learner’s or intermediate license may not text or use a cell phone.
WisconsinA statewide ban on texting while driving is in effect, as is a more general regulation on distracted driving.
WyomingThere is a complete texting while driving ban.
Outside the United States
If you're renting a car in another country, ask about the local mobile phone laws when renting a vehicle. A hands-free device may need to conform to certain regulations as well, as in Australia. Here's a summary of the laws in some popular travel destinations. Note that there is a patchwork of rules across European Union nations. Follow these guidelines for driving in the United Kingdom.
MexicoMexico bans the use of a cell phone while driving in Mexico City, but there are no restrictions anywhere else.
CanadaHand-held cell phone use and texting is illegal in all provinces and territories of Canada. There are additional regulations on use of electronic devices like a GPS or in-car DVD player that you should research before driving through Canada. Alberta’s distracted-driving laws are particularly comprehensive.
AustraliaAustralia has a total ban on all hand-held use of a cell phone, including texting, while driving. A hands-free kit in Australia must make the operation of the telephone completely voice-activated, and the driver may not touch the phone at any point.
New ZealandSimilar to Australia, New Zealand has a total ban on texting and hand-held use of a cell phone. Unlike Australia, hands-free kits may include brief touching of the phone, if needed.
JapanJapan bans any mobile phone use while driving, including the use of hands-free devices.
Angela West dreams of opening a Fallout-themed pub featuring wait staff with Pip-Boys. She's written for big insurance companies, small wildlife control businesses, gourmet food chains, and more. Follow her on Twitter at@angelawestand onFacebook.