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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.

State Phone use ban? Handheld use ban? Texting ban?
Alabama Yes for drivers ages 16 and 17 No Yes
Alaska No No Yes
Arizona Yes for drivers with learners permits or the first 6 months of driving Yes Yes
Arkansas Only for school and construction zones Yes for drivers ages 18 to 21 Yes
California Yes for drivers under 18 Yes Yes
Colorado Yes for drivers under 18 No Yes
Connecticut Yes for drivers under 18 Yes Yes
Delaware Yes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licenses Yes Yes
Washington, D.C. Yes for drivers under 18 Yes Yes
Florida No Only for school and construction zones Yes
Georgia Yes for drivers under 18 Yes Yes
Hawaii Yes for drivers under 18 Yes Yes
Idaho No No Yes
Illinois Yes for drivers under 19 or with learners permits Yes Yes
Indiana Yes for drivers under 21 No Yes
Iowa Yes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licenses No Yes
Kansas Yes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licenses No Yes
Kentucky Yes for drivers under 18 No Yes
Louisiana Yes for drivers under 18 or the first 12 months of driving Yes in areas with school zone signs or for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licenses Yes
Maine Yes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licenses Yes Yes
Maryland Yes for drivers under 18 Yes Yes
Massachusetts Yes for drivers under 18 Yes Yes
Michigan No Yes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licenses Yes
Minnesota Yes for drivers with learners permits or provisional licenses or the first 12 months of driving Yes Yes
Mississippi No No Yes
Missouri No No Yes for drivers 21 and under
Montana No No No
Nebraska Yes for drivers with learners permits or under 18 drivers with intermediate licenses No Yes
Nevada No Yes Yes
New Hampshire Yes for drivers under 18 Yes Yes
New Jersey Yes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licenses Yes Yes
New Mexico Yes for drivers with learners permits or under 18 drivers with intermediate licenses No Yes
New York No Yes Yes
North Carolina Yes for drivers under 18 No Yes
North Dakota Yes for drivers under 18 No Yes
Ohio Yes for drivers under 18 No Yes
Oklahoma No Yes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licenses Yes
Oregon Yes for drivers under 18 Yes Yes
Pennsylvania No No Yes
Rhode Island Yes for drivers under 18 Yes Yes
South Carolina No No Yes
South Dakota Yes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licenses No Yes
Tennessee Yes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licenses Yes Yes
Texas Yes for drivers under 18 Yes in school crossings and zones during reduced speed limit times Yes
Utah Yes for drivers under 18 No Yes
Vermont Yes for drivers under 18 Yes Yes
Virginia Yes for drivers under 18 Yes in highway construction zones Yes
Washington Yes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licenses Yes Yes
West Virginia Yes for drivers under 18 with learners permits or intermediate licenses Yes Yes
Wisconsin Yes for drivers with learners permits or intermediate licenses Yes in highway construction zones Yes
Wyoming No No Yes

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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