How do laws banning "texting" while driving work?

Just curious as to the extent of these law. If I understand correctly, in these states, I can be looking down to dial my cellphone to place a call, but if I am pressing other buttons to send a text message, then that is illegal?

Also, what is a “text” message? Is it an SMS communication only? So, if I’m sending an email, or updating my Facebook page, or browsing the Dope, then am I in the clear? How is an officer to determine, as I pass at 70mph, that I am texting instead of making a phone call or looking for a quarter that I dropped?

It only takes a moment to input a phone number… someone who is texting would be staring at their lap for much longer. I doubt a cop could determine if you were texting while you drove by at 70 mph… but if he was following behind you in an unmarked car he might be able to tell.

I think this has more to do with accident determination. Texting can certainly lead to a loss of attention, which can cause a collision.

Most people tend to follow traffic laws, whether they can actually be enforced or not is another story.

I suspect that the law really comes into play in the case of an accident. If it can be determined that the person was texting at the time then the hammer comes down and the liability goes up.

Whether someone has just sent a text or not is pretty easy to prove after the fact. It’s just one subpoena of phone records away. Probable cause for a citation requires little more than that you’re holding a phone while driving, which can be seen easily in many circumstances.

Where I live, and probably many other places, there is already a law that covers driving while distracted. Our new texting law with the same penalities is useless, except maybe to call attention to the issue.

Many states make it illegal to use your cell phone in any way that involves your hands. So dialing and holding the phone up to your ear are also illegal. The only way to use a cell phone strictly for voice in those states is when you can dial by voice activation and then talk on speaker phone. (Or, I suppose, dial before you start driving and then talk on speaker phone).

Of course, officers aren’t just looking for people on their cell phones. It’s much more likely that the office will spot you and pull you over for something else - speeding, running a red light, weaving in your lane, etc. - and then use cell phone laws to make the ticket something with a stiffer penalty.

Seat belt laws are often enforced in the same way - even though you could be pulled over without any additional cause, in practice it’s often just an additional penalty on top of whatever else you were doing.

Many laws are enacted because: A). They cost nothing to implement, and B). Shows that your legislature is hard at work. I would include those “Drug Free School Zones” in these types of laws.

Will banning texting work? Not directly. Most people think of themselves as excellent drivers and think that they can handle the texting and driving at the same time. It might come into play with accidents, but it might be hard to prove.

Many times while I’m driving, I ask my wife or my sons to answer my cellphone. Or reply to a text message I got. If I got into an accident and you subpoenaed my records, I would simply state the truth: the other person in the car was on my phone and not me.

The other problem is that you could do a bit of time shifting. I was on the phone, got into an accident at 1:03pm. Records showed I was on the phone at 1:03pm, but I claim the accident really happened at 1:01pm when I was not on the phone, and I was simply calling my friend to tell them I was in an accident.

What is required is a social shift much like what happened with cigarettes and car seatbelts. Each of these had years of public service announcements telling people the dangers of smoking or not wearing seatbelts and for years, people simply ignored them.

What happened was a social change: People started asking you to wear your seatbelts when you drove with them. People told you not to smoke with them around. Part of this was due to the PSAs. Part of it was due to various new laws. But, most of it simply took a tipping point where it became less and less okay to smoke in public, or to drive without your seatbelts on.

I suspect we’re going to start seeing a similar social shift. The laws will help. The stories of accidents where people were killed because someone was busy texting will become more prevalent. People will tell other people to put the phone down while driving. Movies and TV shows will make texting while driving look stupid.

So, the laws won’t help in a strict sense, but they are helping drive public debate. The newspaper stories also help, and so do public discussion boards like this. Sooner or later, people will stop texting while driving because it will be socially unacceptable.

Oregon passed a no-hands-on law that took effect on January 1st. That means no dialing, no texting, no surfing, etc. It’s also a primary offense here, so cops may stop you and issue a ticket if they see you, not just cite you after an accident. Exemptions exist for emergency vehicles, civilian emergencies, and some business operators such as taxis, real estate types, etc.

I understand that some states make talking on a hand held cell phone an offense while driving. For the purposes of this thread, I am only talking about those states that allow talking on a cell phone, but have a law against “texting”.

I was booked for using my phone a few weeks ago. I told the cop that I usually don’t answer the phone just look to see who is calling. He said to me, “Well you commit the offence as soon as you pull the phone out. You can pull a ham sandwich out of your pocket but not your phone.”

Apparently here in NSW Australia you can use a CB radio but not a phone, use a GPS but not that app on a phone. You can’t even look at your phone to see what time it is.

Which states are those?

I don’t know about US states, but that’s certainly the case in many countries, including the UK.

Doesn’t matter whether you’re texting or whatever - you simply can’t use a mobile phone at all while driving.

I think if you re-read you’ll see that jtgain is talking about jurisdictions in which talking is allowed but texting is not.

Aren’t there usually clocks on the dashboard?

You’re far more optimistic than I. My sister and all her friends (17-19) talk and text while driving whenever the opportunity presents itself. From where I’m sitting, it really seems pervasive. Perhaps that’s the way things used to be with respect to seat belts, though. I didn’t live through the transition.

NC law says no email or texting while driving. Also no looking at video screens but I think GPS is OK.

We just had a woman drive into a train , she was killed along with her 5 year old daughter. She was on her phone at the time of the crash.

I imagine the answers to the OP’s questions may vary from state to state. For example, the law that took effect in Illinois at the beginning of 2010 can be found here (warning: PDF):

My 1996 Tercel has no dashboard clock, though it has a nice little rectangle punched into the plastic where the clock would go. I bought it with a third-party tapedeck installed, which showed an incorrect time, and I swapped it for a CD player with clock, but over the years of maintenance, the clock is no longer accurate, either. I just use a watch.

Here it’s illegal to use the phone at all, unless it’s on a hands-free system. And even then it might be used as evidence against you if you are in an auto accident while operating it.
Despite this you still see large numbers of people using them.

It really is a shame that governments had to enact such a law. It just seems common sense that you should NOT be texting while driving but I see it all the time. I think New York State was one of the first around us to start it and then last year the Ontario Government put it into effect. I’ve been saying it for years but finally we have it. As far as enforcing it that is a problem, but I think the real crime will be after an accident they will look at your cell records and find out if you were on the phone at the time of the accident. We had a case here a while back where some guy was killed at a train crossing while driving and they determined by his cell records that he was on the cell phone at the time of the train hitting his car.
Let’s face it, we have too many distractions in the car, we need to concentrate on driving and this has been a long time coming and it is the right thing to do.
If you receive a call just pull over and take it or let it goto voice mail.
If we save one innocent life it is worth it.
The problem now is, how are the COPS going to enforce it? But then I have never been able to understand anyone drinking and driving either. Maybe 30 years it was ok to have a beer on the way to the cottage but nowadays there’s too much traffic.

I wonder if that’s true in Israel :wink: