New Laws Hit Those Who Use Their Cell Phone While Driving

States are cracking down on cell phone use while driving. See how you're affected.

We all know that texting while driving is a bad idea. We've seen harrowing commercials warning of the danger. We've heard tragic news reports of drivers who didn't heed the risks. And most of us live in a state that has a total ban on texting while driving.

Those jurisdictions have just increased in number. With the new year come new driving laws, and the number of states restricting cell phone use while driving has risen. Arizona is one of only two states without any laws prohibiting texting while driving. While the state still does not have any laws banning texting specifically, a bipartisan law, Arizona SB 1080, which takes effect in July 2018, will place a total ban on cell phone use for minors during the first six months after they get their licenses, or until their 18th birthday. While some, such as Gov. Doug Ducey, believe the law doesn't go far enough, it's part of a nationwide trend of stricter limits on distracted driving.

Also, as of January, 2018, Washington state police will issue a $136 ticket to drivers merely for holding a cell phone in their hand when their car is in a driving lane—even if they're stopped at a red light; on the second offense, the cost of the ticket increases to $234. Fourteen other states, and the District of Columbia, have already enacted total bans on handheld phone use, and additional jurisdictions, such as Philadelphia, have similar laws, even if their states do not.

How often do people use their phones while driving?

According to a recent survey conducted by Root Insurance and The Harris Poll, 80% of American drivers admit to using a mobile device while operating their vehicles. The prevalence of this habit is troubling both for drivers and their liable insurance companies. In addition to other key findings, Root's survey also revealed the following:

  • 19% of drivers can't drive for more than 30 minutes without checking their phone.
  • 10% of male drivers admit to shopping online while driving.
  • 1 in 7 drivers who have children under the age of 18 admit to taking a selfie while driving.

How much does phone use impair driving?

Studies on the effects of cell phone use on drivers support the tougher measures some states are enacting. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), sending or reading a text message takes your eyes off of the road for approximately five seconds. A driver going 55 mph can travel the length of a football field—blind—during that time period. And according to tests carried out by Car and Driver Magazine, a driver who is texting has a slower reaction time than a driver whose blood-alcohol level is at the legal maximum of .08% blood-alcohol concentration.

Car and Driver Magazine Test Results

Level of impairmentTime/distance to brake at a red light
Unimpaired.54 seconds
Legally Drunk (.08% BAC)4 additional feet
Reading an email36 additional feet
Writing a text message70 additional feet

How does cell phone use affect car insurance rates?

Every day, approximately 660,000 people use their cell phones while driving, according to NHTSA. And, troublingly, the incidence of drivers who are visibly manipulating their phones is steadily rising. That creates enormous potential for accidents, and car insurance companies are well aware of that fact.

Teens are more than twice as likely as drivers as a whole to talk or text on their phones while driving. That's one of the reasons insurance companies set significantly higher rates for young drivers.

Teens won't bear higher rates alone, though. Auto insurance rates will likely rise again in 2018 across all drivers. To be clear, these rate increases aren't due to texting alone. Cheap gas and a good economy have led to more cars on the road, which in turn leads to higher risk for insurance companies. But our stubborn habit of cell phone use, combined with all of that additional road time, is yet another factor that leads to losses, which insurance companies must consider when setting their annual rates.

However, whether a texting offense will directly trigger an increase in your premiums depends on your state and how it penalizes phone-related driving offenses. In any state with a ban on phone use, violating those rules will result in a fine. But only in states that treat phone use as a moving violation will you see a subsequent penalty in your auto insurance rates as well.

For example, Connecticut drivers over the age of 18 may use hands-free devices while driving. However, if any driver is caught holding a phone in their hand while operating a vehicle, they'll receive a moving citation and have points added to their license. Other states that assign license points for holding a phone include Florida, New York, Wisconsin and Colorado. When it comes time to renew their auto insurance policies, insurance companies in these states will view those points as representing an increased risk, and adjust their rates accordingly. If you rack up enough points that your license is suspended, you may even be required to obtain an SR-22 form before you're allowed back on the road.

In other states, such as California and Pennsylvania, you'll only have to pay a fine for a phone-related distracted driving violation. However, no matter what your state stipulates, any accident that leads to a claim on your auto insurance will likely result in a steep increase in your annual rates, especially if it's not your first claim. With insurance premiums increasing at historic rates, and cars becoming more expensive to repair, something's got to give. Perhaps 2018 will be the year that drivers finally decide to put down their phones.

Daniel Caughill

Daniel is a Staff Writer at ValuePenguin, covering insurance, retirement and other personal finance topics. He previously wrote about compliance and best practices for K-12 school districts at Frontline Education.

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