Texting While Driving: Is It REALLY Illegal?

According to Distraction.gov, “At any given moment during daylight hours, over 800,000 vehicles are being driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone.” Neat. If you need me, I’ll just be inside, not getting sideswiped by someone who was too busy texting to yield. I could scare you with more statistics, but what’s the point? We’ve heard them all before.

It’s a no-brainer: texting while driving is bad news for you, your passengers and everyone around you. It’s distracting, and chances are, whatever that text is about can wait. Pass the phone to a passenger, or wait until you’ve arrived at your final destination. Whatever it takes, just please don’t do it, okay? Great, my work here is done!

Except, it’s not. Because even though we already knew all of that, we’re still doing it. Why? When it comes to texting and driving, there are a lot of gray areas. Can you just glance down to read the text, without sending a reply? What if it’s an emergency? What if you send just one word (even though I loathe people who do that)? What if you tell Siri what to text back, and she sends it for you?

Texting while driving has evolved to include sending emails, Facebooking, Tweeting and so on. If you can do it on a phone, people are doing it behind the wheel. I guess it’s only a matter of time until you can get a ticket for ‘Instagramming While Driving’. Think I’m exaggerating? You’d be surprised how many Snapchats I’ve received from moving vehicles.

The gray areas are easy to fall into, especially because the laws aren’t black and white. Every state has a unique set of definitions and punishments for texting while driving. Currently, text messaging is banned for all drivers in 39 states and the District of Columbia. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – here’s where things get complicated.

  • How Texting While Driving Restrictions Vary (not all are applicable in every state)
  • By state
  • By age
  • By number of years of driving experience
  • By device: handheld cell phone, television, computer
  • What the device is being used for: electronic text messages, email, tweets, talking
  • How the device is being used: reading, writing, hands-free communication
  • Penalties for Texting While Driving (not all are applicable in every state)
  • Warnings
  • Fines
  • License suspension
  • Mandatory classes
  • License points
  • Increased insurance rate
  • Waiting period to graduate to next license level (for drivers with restricted licenses)
  • How Texting While Driving Penalties Are Determined (not all are applicable in every state)
  • Number of years driving experience
  • Number of previous texting while driving offenses
  • If texting was the cause of an accident

Confused? It’s hard not to be. Some states allow texting for emergencies. Some states allow cell phone use for GPS usage. To further confuse things, the laws are constantly changing; I looked at a few different websites while writing this article, and found some conflicting information. Read up on your state’s laws here, but remember – the safest way to text and drive is to not do it at all.

Here’s the main reason I don’t reply to texts when I’m on the road: because of the feeling I get when I’m in someone else’s car and they do it. It’s eerily unsettling. I put my safety in their hands – but for a moment, they’re choosing to put their phone in their hands.

We need to do a better job of policing ourselves. If not, the real police will police us, and things might get ugly. Be honest with yourself: do you ever slip into the gray areas? It’s okay, because it’s easy to. The next time you’re behind the wheel and your phone buzzes, think twice, trust yourself and do what’s right. The consequences of texting while driving immediately affect you and those around you, plus many others.

Since we’re all friends here, I’ll tell you my embarrassing (and naive) confession: I used to say (and not at all defensively), “I’m a better driver when I’m talking on the phone. Being on the phone makes me hyper-aware of what’s around me, and I know I have to concentrate harder on the road.” No, Elizabeth. Just, no. Someone please go back to 2004 and slap me.

So if you fall into the gray areas of texting while driving, please join me in being better! Because, there are nothing but good reasons to say no to texting and driving. Leave a comment below if you’re with me.

Featured image via ShutterStock, map via The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety