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When can I use my phone when driving?

Texting or holding your phone may be illegal, depending on your state.

Updated

Fact checked

Because distracted drivers can cause car accidents while using their phones, many states are enforcing laws to lessen or ban handheld phones on the road. That ban may include only texting or restrictions for young drivers depending on the state, but many states extend the ban to all drivers. Even then, you might be able to use your phone for certain activities.

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

Your state may allow these phone activities 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.

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.

State laws for using your phone while driving

Know the laws in your state for keeping your phone in hand while driving, texting or phone use. 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.

StatePhone use ban?Handheld use ban?Texting ban?
AlabamaYes for drivers ages 16 and 17NoYes
AlaskaNoNoYes
ArizonaYes for drivers with learners permits or the first 6 months of drivingYesYes
ArkansasOnly for school and construction zonesYes for drivers ages 18 to 21Yes
CaliforniaYes for drivers under 18YesYes
ColoradoYes for drivers under 18NoYes
ConnecticutYes for drivers under 18YesYes
DelawareYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesYesYes
Washington, D.C.Yes for drivers under 18YesYes
FloridaNoOnly for school and construction zonesYes
GeorgiaYes for drivers under 18YesYes
HawaiiYes for drivers under 18YesYes
IdahoNoNoYes
IllinoisYes for drivers under 19 or with learners permitsYesYes
IndianaYes for drivers under 21NoYes
IowaYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesNoYes
KansasYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesNoYes
KentuckyYes for drivers under 18NoYes
LouisianaYes for drivers under 18 or the first 12 months of drivingYes in areas with school zone signs or for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesYes
MaineYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesYesYes
MarylandYes for drivers under 18YesYes
MassachusettsYes for drivers under 18YesYes
MichiganNoYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesYes
MinnesotaYes for drivers with learners permits or provisional licenses or the first 12 months of drivingYesYes
MississippiNoNoYes
MissouriNoNoYes for drivers 21 and under
MontanaNoNoNo
NebraskaYes for drivers with learners permits or under 18 drivers with intermediate licensesNoYes
NevadaNoYesYes
New HampshireYes for drivers under 18YesYes
New JerseyYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesYesYes
New MexicoYes for drivers with learners permits or under 18 drivers with intermediate licensesNoYes
New YorkNoYesYes
North CarolinaYes for drivers under 18NoYes
North DakotaYes for drivers under 18NoYes
OhioYes for drivers under 18NoYes
OklahomaNoYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesYes
OregonYes for drivers under 18YesYes
PennsylvaniaNoNoYes
Rhode IslandYes for drivers under 18YesYes
South CarolinaNoNoYes
South DakotaYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesNoYes
TennesseeYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesYesYes
TexasYes for drivers under 18Yes in school crossings and zones during reduced speed limit timesYes
UtahYes for drivers under 18NoYes
VermontYes for drivers under 18YesYes
VirginiaYes for drivers under 18Yes in highway construction zonesYes
WashingtonYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesYesYes
West VirginiaYes for drivers under 18 with learners permits or intermediate licensesYesYes
WisconsinYes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licensesYes in highway construction zonesYes
WyomingNoNoYes

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.

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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.

Frequently about using your phone when driving

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