America’s roads are dangerous places, but a hand-full of states are keeping traffic laws tight to protect those behind the wheel from distracted drivers. If you’re on a road trip, consider paying extra attention while passing through these states, but also feel a little safer knowing some areas are more stringent than others.
The fight against distracted driving has been a long one with state officials constantly updating bills to protect drivers.
Even then, some state laws do stick out among others. Across all 50, the following have some of the harshest.
Let’s break down which states have the most strict distracted driving laws:
California – California is a busy place and its’ traffic laws are tough. This year, a California law barring drivers from holding phones while driving emerged as one of the strictest distracted driving laws in the nation.
Titled Quirk’s Bill, AB 1785, the law covered a major loophole in California’s recent hands-free cellphone laws. Drivers can still use their phones if they’re utilizing hands-free services, like voice chat or dashboard navigation, but any video-swiping, texting, or calling will result in a citation should drivers be caught by law enforcement.
Hawaii – You might not think Hawaii to be strict in terms of road rules, but the state has a ton of motorcycle restrictions. It gets a Green rating for most of its’ driving laws and strict enforcement of DUI laws.
As for distracted driving, Hawaii has remained diligent when it comes to ticketing out-of-state travelers visiting the territory. In 2016, over 20,000 traffic tickets were distributed for distracted driving, with 6,000 more citations issued in 2016 from 2015. While this figure is significant, it can be attributed to Hawaii Department of Transportation officials issuing tickets based upon the previous year’s fatalities.
Currently, the state seeks to triple distracted driving fines, meaning a ticket for using a smartphone might fall within the $750-$900 range.
Illinois – Beyond Chicago, Illinois distracted driving laws are strict. In Illinois, the use of wireless telephones while operating a vehicle in construction or school zones is entirely prohibited. It might seem more lenient relative to other state traffic laws, but this mandate is coupled with a ban on using text communication, email, and Internet browsing while driving.
A violation will set drivers back $120, which can be multiplied if the law has been violated in a work or school zone.
On January 1, 2017, additional laws were implemented to protect emergency vehicles. In the past, drivers were required to change lanes or slow their speed when passing a stationary emergency vehicle. Now, the law applies for any stranded vehicle with hazards on.
Massachusetts – Massachusetts is next on the list, having passed a bill banning all use of handheld devices while driving. The first offense is met with a $100 fine whereas a $250 fine will meet second-time offenders before increasing to a $500 fine for driver who have broken the law three or more times.
If the increasing ticket price tier wasn’t harsh enough, subsequent offenses after the second infringement will be met with insurance surcharges. Drivers are limited to a “single tap or swipe,” giving them the ability to activate a smartphone’s hands-free mode. Massachusetts distracted driving laws might have received a driver-friendly amendment, but the statutes weren’t exactly lax before.
In 2010, the state cracked down on text messaging while driving, resulting in a violation jump from 1,893 in 2012 to 9,432 in 2016.
New York – Distracted drivers in New York can expect up to a $150 fine for texting. Additionally, they can expect a $100 penalty for violating the state’s hand-held device ban. New York has seen a surge of distracted driving tickets, which have increased 918 percent between 2011 and 2016 across the state. New York is well-known for its high spring-season ticket rates.
Because April marks the start of a seasonal traffic influx, State Police alongside local law enforcement agencies work to reduce overall infractions and dangerous conditions with this proactive approach to distracted driving.
Washington – Washington has a notoriously expensive driving culture. In July, Washington state officials created a law to discourage distracted driving, closing a loophole against car-made calls by banning the use of any personal electronic device while at a stoplight.
As if the all-electric ban wasn’t enough, the state now prohibits the application of make-up and eating while driving. The law’s fines are steep: A $136 ticket awaits first-offenders, and a $234 ticket is in store for repeat offenders. Offenses are further reported to the drivers’ insurance company to be later posted on the driver’s record.
The dynamics of these laws are so strict, drivers were confused about the legality of even drinking coffee after a confusing USA Today report, though this law does permit sipping on caffeinated beverages.
If you’re passing through any of these areas, local traffic safety laws are always good to know.
Check out this map on nation-wide cellphone and texting bans while driving. It might save you a ticket. We recommend diving into state-specific distracted driving laws before crossing over jurisdictional borders. A lot of localities have created their own text messaging and cellphone bans. In some states, local jurisdictions might need pre-specified statutory authority to issue a ticket.
To play it safe we recommend just keeping the mobile devices tucked away.