A recent photo of Al Pacino cruising out of a parking garage while chatting on a handheld cell phone generated worldwide headlines. Perhaps Pacino knew better than to break California’s law—enacted on July 1, just days before the photo was taken—that prohibits drivers from using handheld cell phones for calls or texting; but maybe he didn’t. The laws surrounding cell phones can be confusing, afterall.
That's especially true for residents of areas where states intersect who can inadvertently run afoul of the law. Consider the Washington, DC metro area; DC and Maryland have laws banning handheld cell phone use by drivers but nearby Virginia only bans texting while driving. It’s the same in New York, where handheld cell phone use is banned, but nearby Pennsylvania has no laws restricting cell phone use by drivers.
"Quite frankly many studies have shown that not looking at a cell phone but talking on the phone creates a distraction," says Ragina Avarella, public and government affairs manager, AAA Mid-Atlantic, headquartered in Wilmington, Del. "The reality is that we really believe you can not eliminate all driver distraction." For that reason, AAA Mid-Atlantic does not support a ban of cell phone use by drivers but more comprehensive bills that would lessen many forms of driver distraction. The problem is more widespread than cell phones, Avarella believes.
Agree or disagree, there are currently 27 U.S. states that restrict cell phone use by drivers, according to data by AAA, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and Governors Highway Safety Association. Pity the poor traveler who may not face the glare of paparazzi flashes but the lights of law enforcement dome lights if they break the law!
Before you travel, consider these points:
- Don’t drive and text. Even Alaska, which is known as a state that is slow to enact laws that limit personal freedom, forbids this action. Chances are good that wherever you drive, texting is prohibited. It’s also a bad idea because it takes too much mental and physical energy away from driving.
- Keep teen drivers off cell phones. Some states only prohibit certain classes of drivers, such as teens and school bus drivers, from using cell phones. Chances are good that if a state has a prohibition against cell phone use, it will be stricter for teens.
- Invest in a headset. This is not a surefire way to ensure safety. In fact, AAA has discouraged legislation that calls for headsets because it gives drivers a false sense of safety. However, the following states do allow drivers with headsets to use cell phones: California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Utah, and Washington State.
- Know the law. Determine the cell phone laws in the areas to which you’re headed by going to the Department of Motor Vehicles’ Web site for those particular states.
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