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When can I use my phone when driving?

See which states have laws against calling or texting while driving.

Because distraction can cause major car accidents, many states are enforcing laws against texting or calling while you’re on the road. However, distracted driving involves anything that might take your attention off the road, like tuning your radio or listening to chatty passengers. Know your state’s laws and put safeguards in place to help you drive distraction-free.

When can I legally use my phone when behind the wheel?

Your state may allow using your phone for these reasons if they’re voice-activated or hands-free, but check your state laws to be sure.

  • Listen to music
  • Make or answer calls hands-free
  • Listen to text messaging through your phone’s voice features
  • Use your phone’s navigation
  • Make an emergency call

Many states have laws outlining when you can and can’t use your phone when driving, and each one varies in how it enforces those laws.

For example, California bans using handheld phones but allows drivers to use voice-activated features. Texas bans handheld phones in school zones during the reduced speed limit hours. Texas also bans any phone use for drivers under 18 years old and texting for all drivers.

Are you driving distracted?

No matter your state’s laws, consider whether your phone is taking your attention off the road, and don’t assume that you can handle multi-tasking while driving. You wouldn’t want your overconfidence to lead to a serious car accident or injuries.

When can’t I use my phone?

If your car is on the road, you likely can’t use your phone in ways that require extra attention or touching your phone. Even at stoplights, you could get penalized for using your phone for:

  • Texting
  • Checking social media
  • Touching to answer calls
  • Dialing a call
  • Taking pictures
  • Internet browsing
  • Emailing
  • Playing games

If you need to touch your phone, you should park your car away from traffic to do so. Again, every state varies in its distracted driving laws, so some states include tighter restrictions than others.

Distracted driving laws by state

Know the laws in your state for driving, texting or using your phone. In this table, handheld phone ban means holding your phone is not legal, while hands-free talking or texting may be. All cell phones banned means drivers can’t use their phones at all while driving.

StateAll phone use bannedPhone in hand lawsTexting and driving laws
AlabamaYes for drivers ages 16 and 17AllowedBanned
ArizonaYes for drivers with learners permits or the first 6 months of drivingBannedBanned
ArkansasOnly for school and construction zonesBanned for drivers ages 18 to 21Banned
CaliforniaYes for drivers under 18BannedBanned
ColoradoYes for drivers under 18AllowedBanned
ConnecticutYes for drivers under 18BannedBanned
DelawareYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesBannedBanned
Washington, D.C.Yes for drivers under 18BannedBanned
FloridaNoBanned for school and construction zonesBanned
GeorgiaYes for drivers under 18BannedBanned
HawaiiYes for drivers under 18BannedBanned
IllinoisYes for drivers under 19 or with learners permitsBannedBanned
IndianaYes for drivers under 21AllowedBanned
IowaYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesAllowedBanned
KansasYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesAllowedBanned
KentuckyYes for drivers under 18AllowedBanned
LouisianaYes for drivers under 18 or the first 12 months of drivingBanned in areas with school zone signs or for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesBanned
MaineYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesBannedBanned
MarylandYes for drivers under 18BannedBanned
MassachusettsYes for drivers under 18BannedBanned
MichiganNoBanned for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesBanned
MinnesotaYes for drivers with learners permits or provisional licenses or the first 12 months of drivingBannedBanned
MissouriNoAllowedBanned for drivers 21 and under
NebraskaYes for drivers with learners permits or under 18 drivers with intermediate licensesAllowedBanned
New HampshireYes for drivers under 18BannedBanned
New JerseyYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesBannedBanned
New MexicoYes for drivers with learners permits or under 18 drivers with intermediate licensesAllowedBanned
New YorkNoBannedBanned
North CarolinaYes for drivers under 18AllowedBanned
North DakotaYes for drivers under 18AllowedBanned
OhioYes for drivers under 18AllowedBanned
OklahomaNoBanned for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesBanned
OregonYes for drivers under 18BannedBanned
Rhode IslandYes for drivers under 18BannedBanned
South CarolinaNoAllowedBanned
South DakotaYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesAllowedBanned
TennesseeYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesBannedBanned
TexasYes for drivers under 18Banned in school crossings and zones during reduced speed limit timesBanned
UtahYes for drivers under 18AllowedBanned
VermontYes for drivers under 18BannedBanned
VirginiaYes for drivers under 18Banned in highway construction zonesBanned
WashingtonYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesBannedBanned
West VirginiaYes for drivers under 18 with learners permits or intermediate licensesBannedBanned
WisconsinYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesBanned in highway construction zonesBanned

What penalties will I face for using a phone while driving?

Although legal consequences vary, many states enforce a distracted driving fine ranging from $50 to $500. Some my just give a warning.

However, not all states restrict handheld cell phones while driving, such as Alaska, Idaho and Wyoming. Penalties don’t apply in these states, but fines may apply for texting since nearly all states ban this phone activity.

How much does using a phone increase my accident risk?

Because you’re dividing your attention in two, using a phone while driving can increase your chance for an accident significantly. Nearly 3,000 fatal crashes happened in 2017 while drivers were distracted, according to a Traffic Safety Facts Research Note from the NHTSA. About 14% of those crashes involved drivers using a cell phone, and drivers under age 30 showed the highest cell phone use. The NHTSA report was updated in April 2019.

Will insurance cover an accident if I’m on my phone?

Your car insurance should cover an accident even if you’re using your cell phone. However, your insurance premium may skyrocket to reflect your added risk as a driver.

If your distracted driving caused the accident, you would be found at fault for the crash. Your insurance would pay for the other cars’ property damage and any injuries to drivers or passengers. Then, you would pay the deductible for collision coverage on your car if you have that coverage.

How can I stay distraction-free on the road?

You may need to get intentional about steering clear of distractions while you’re driving. You can encourage your own safe habits by:

  • Turning off incoming messages. Your phone should have a Do Not Disturb setting or airplane mode that you can toggle on before you turn on your car. That way incoming texts and calls will stay on hold until you’re parked.
  • Using an app. Apps like LifeSaver, Mojo and DriveSafe will disable your phone while you’re driving and may let parents know if their teen is on the phone while driving.
  • Signing up for telematics car insurance. A telematics policy tracks your driving habits and sets your car insurance premium based on your safety skills. This could give you some financial motivation to stay safe while you’re driving.
  • Asking a passenger for help. If you’re driving with friends or family in the car, ask them to look up a new address or answer a text for you.
  • Pulling over to use your phone. If you have to answer a call or text or mess with your navigation, pull over at a nearby store or side street so that you’re not distracted.

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Bottom line

Whether or not your state includes cell phone or distracted driving laws, it’s a good idea to practice safety habits like not touching your phone. Doing so could help you avoid an accident that would increase your car insurance premium.

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