Driving While Using Cell Phone as Dangerous as Driving While Drunk

Drivers who talk on mobile or cell (cellular) phones are as impaired as drunken drivers, according to research.1

Drivers who use a handheld device are four times more likely to get into a crash serious enough to cause injury. The risk to the public is serious. At any given moment during the daylight hours, over 800,000 vehicles in the U.S. are being driven by someone using a handheld cell phone, according to research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).2 The National Safety Council estimates that in a recent year, 21% of vehicular crashes (1,100,000) involved talking on either a handheld or handsfree cell phone.3

Both hand-held and hands-free mobile phones impair driving, with no significant difference in the degree of impairment. Researchers have asserted that this well established scientific fact “calls into question driving regulations that prohibited handheld cell phones and permit hands-free cell phones.”4

The following countries prohibit hand-held mobile phone use while driving a motor vehicle:

These countries prohibit the use of hand-held devices in at least one state or province:

State Hand-held Ban
Alabama No
Alaska No
Arizona No
Arkansas No, only for 18-20 year old drivers and in school and highway work zones.
California No, only as a secondary offense.*
Colorado No
Connecticut Yes
Delaware Yes
D.C. Yes
Florida No
Georgia No
Hawaii Yes
Idaho No*
Illinois No, only in construction and school speed zones and within 500 feet of an emergency scene.
Indiana No
Iowa No
Kansas No
Kentucky No
Louisiana No, only for holders of a first driver’s license for a period of one year.
Maine No
Maryland No, only as a secondary offense.* Massachusetts No
Michigan No, only for teens with probationary licenses whose earlier mobile phone usage has contributed to a traffic crash or ticket.
Minnesota No
Mississippi No
Missouri No
Montana No
Nebraska No
Nevada Yes
New Hampshire No
New Jersey Yes
New Mexico No, only in state-owned vehicles.
New York Yes
North Carolina No
North Dakota No
Ohio No
Oklahoma No, only for holders of learner or intermediate licenses.
Oregon Yes
Pennsylvania No
Rhode Island No
South Carolina No
South Dakota No
Tennessee No
Texas No, only in school zones.
Utah No
Vermont No
Virginia No
Washington Yes
West Virginia Yes
Wisconsin No
Wyoming No

Because using hands-free devices is as dangerous as using hand-held devices, additional attention needs to be focused on reducing use of the latter. That could save thousands of lives annually.

Individuals and organizations are not completely helpless in states that fail to have laws prohibiting mobile phone use while driving. Individuals can improve their personal safety by choosing not to use phones while driving. Employers can establish and enforce policies that prohibit employees from using cell phones (either hand-held or hands-free) while driving vehicles owned by the organization or company. This not only contributes to safety but may also eliminate employee liability associated with crashes associated with using a phone in a vehicle.


*A secondary offense is one that is citable or ticketed only in connection with a stop on suspicion of another unrelated offense.

Please note: This website is informational only and it should not be relied on as a source of legal information, which changes frequently and is subject to many qualifications. The information is from reliable sources and is believed to be correct but is not guaranteed to be so and should not be used as a guide for behavior. It does not provide legal suggestions or advice and none should be inferred.


  • 1. Strayer, D.L., Drews, F.A., and Crouch, D.L. A comparison of the cell phone driver and the drunk driver. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 2006 (Summer), 381-391; Collet, C., et al. Phoning while driving I: a review of epidemiological, psychological, behavioural and physiological studies. Ergonomics, 2010, 53(5), 589-601.
  • 2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Policy Statement and Compiled FAQs on Distracted Driving. nhtsa.gov/Driving+Safety/Distracted+Driving/Policy+Statement+and+Compiled+FAQs+on+Distracted+Driving
  • 3. National Safety Council. Annual Estimate of Cell Phone Crashes 2010. 2012. nsc.org/safety_road/Distracted_Driving/Documents/Attributable%20Risk%20Summary.pdf
  • 4. Strayer, D.L., et al. A comparison of the cell phone driver and the drunk driver. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 2006 (Summer), 381-391.
  • 5. Sources: Governors Highway Safety Association. Cell Phone and Texting Laws (ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html). Accessed November 15, 2012. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Cellphone and Texting Laws: October, 2012. iihs.org/laws/CellPhoneLaws.aspx

Filed Under: Driving

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