Texting on your cellphone is quick and convenient, but it can be dangerous when you're behind the wheel. That's why 39 states -- including Alabama, as of August 2012 -- and the District of Columbia now ban texting while driving.
The number of places that have outlawed texting while driving reflects the seriousness of the problem. In 2010, texting or talking on a cellphone caused 1.6 million crashes nationwide.
Authorities in several states are coming down hard on offenders. Texting while driving in West Virginia now carries a fine of $100 for a first offense and $300 each for subsequent offenses. Texting while driving in Idaho will get you an $85 fine, but it doesn’t qualify as a traffic violation, so insurers in Idaho can’t use a texting ticket to raise car insurance premiums. However, several states – including Connecticut, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Utah -- consider a texting while driving ticket a moving violation.
“Any sort of dangerous driving which results in a driver being issued a moving violation is definitely frowned on by insurance companies,” says Mike Coleman, a State Farm agent in Alabama.
Depending on your driving record, Coleman says, a ticket for texting could be grounds for a rate increase of 5 percent to 25 percent -- or even nonrenewal of your policy.
Law enforcement vs. texters
Traffic cops across the country have been busy tracking down texters.
In New York, about 20,000 motorists statewide have received tickets for texting since a change in state law in July 2011. Previously, cops were able to pull over a driver for texting only if they spotted a second violation, such as an illegal lane change. With four times the number of tickets issued since the new law was passed, the New York State Police is heralding the change in state law.
“The major increase in tickets issued for texting-while-driving violations since this law went into effect demonstrates its usefulness in helping our law enforcement authorities crack down hard on distracted driving,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says in a news release.
The punishment for texting while driving in New York is a fine of up to $150 plus three penalty points tacked onto your driving record.
In April 2012, traffic cops in California issued a record number of distracted-driving tickets for the month. California cops handed out 57,000 tickets, says Chris Cochran, a spokesman for the California Office of Traffic Safety. That’s up from 52,000 tickets in April 2011. And while specific figures for the number of texting tickets aren’t available, many of those tickets were for texting offenses. The fine for texting while driving in California is $159.
In 2011, Illinois cops launched “Operation Star,” designed to crack down on distracted drivers on the state’s busiest highways. If caught texting, Illinois drivers can expect to pay a minimum fine of $120; the offense qualifies as a moving violation.
Are the bans working?
It can be difficult to get a sense of whether texting bans truly are working, as some states, such as Utah and Ohio, can’t cite a driver for texting unless he commits another behind-the-wheel violation, such as speeding.
National statistics on the number of tickets written for texting and driving aren’t available, says Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association. That's because most states’ texting bans are only 1 or 2 years old.
But as more states enforce bans, the number of texting-while-driving tickets being issued is going up – and authorities consider this a success. “There continues to be an increase in tickets written as states get better at enforcing distracted driving laws,” Adkins says.