State Laws Restricting Driver Use of Mobile Communications Devices

Distracted-Driving Provisions, 1992¿2010

A study of the current state of laws limiting drivers’ use of mobile communication devices (MCDs) found that no state prohibits all types of MCD use by all types of drivers, and that laws restricting MCD use are not based on evidence about actual hazards.

The use of MCDs while driving and legal restriction of such usage are increasingly common, but there are no systematic reviews of MCD laws. The authors used Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis to collect laws restricting driver MCD use from all 50 states between 1992 and 2010 and developed a coding system.

As of November 2010, the study found that 39 states and Washington, D.C. have at least one restriction on MCD use. State laws differ by device type, communication type, location of use, category of driver and methods of enforcement and punishment. Most were enacted or underwent serious revision in the 2000s.

Although there is evidence that distracted driving comes from cognitive engagement with a person not in the vehicle, and not from handling a mobile device, laws disproportionately prohibit MCD use without a hands-free device. Laws also target specific types of drivers despite a lack of evidence that they pose higher risk. Research will be key to creating better policy. This study has contributed by creating an open-source data set for use in future evaluations.