Think sending a quick text while driving is harmless? Uh, not so fast.
Aaron Deveau, 18, is one of the latest examples of how states are reacting to the dangers of using cellphones to send and receive messages while driving. In 2011, Deveau was involved in a crash that killed another driver and seriously injured a passenger in the other car.
On June 6, 2012, the Massachusetts teen was found guilty on charges of texting while driving, negligent operation of a motor vehicle and vehicular homicide, according to CNN. The sentence: two years behind bars on the texting and negligence convictions, and two and a half years on the vehicular homicide conviction. In addition, his driver's license will be suspended for 15 years.
While not all cases of texting and driving end in tragedy and jail time, the act of receiving and sending messages from the driver’s seat goes on quite regularly: Studies show that more than 100,000 drivers are texting at any given moment during daylight hours, according to research published by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “It’s as common as speeding now,” says Steven Harris, a personal injury attorney at Harris Law in New York.
The consequences of texting while driving are substantial. “It’s a traffic violation, and will get factored into your insurance premium or even the cancellation of your policy,” Harris says.
Here are four ways that texting can affect your car insurance.
1. Your driving record could change.
“Officers are realizing how dangerous texting is and are now in tune to it,” says Robert Reeves, a personal injury attorney at Reeves Aiken & Hightower LLP, a law firm with offices in North Carolina and South Carolina. In some states, if you receive a traffic citation for texting, you could have points added to your driving record.
Most auto insurers consider policyholders’ driving records in setting rates, says Daniel Schwarcz, associate professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. If you rack up a certain number of points, your insurance company could increase your premium.
2. You could say "adios" to your license.
Just as you could lose your license for getting too many speeding tickets within a certain period, the same is true for texting, Harris says. In New York, a driver can receive up to two points for texting while driving. If he receives 11 points or more during an 18-month window of time, the New York Department of Motor Vehicles could suspend or revoke his license.
“If you lose your license, they’ll cancel your insurance,” Harris says.
Once you get your license back, you could get denied coverage by some companies. In some states, however, a company may be required by the state to offer you high-cost coverage as a high-risk driver.
3. You could face criminal charges.
If you are driving and texting, cause a fatal crash and are charged with vehicular homicide, “you could go to jail for a year or more,” says Joel Feldman, founder of End Distracted Driving, a nonprofit traffic safety initiative. In such a case, you could lose your license and your car insurance coverage.
4. You could qualify for discounts.
If you steer clear of texting, and thus avoid traffic violations, you could earn a discount for a clean driving record. Discounts vary from insurer to insurer, but can be as high as 20 percent, according to MoneyCrashers.com.
Texting laws by state
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 39 states, along with Washington, D.C., ban text messaging by all drivers. In all but four of these, it is primary enforcement, meaning an officer is able to cite a driver for text messaging without any other traffic offenses taking place. It’s secondary enforcement in Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, and Virginia.
In addition, these five states ban novice drivers (those in their first 12 months of driving) from texting: Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. School bus drivers are not allowed to text in Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas.
States without laws against texting include Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Montana, South Carolina and South Dakota.
In several states, local authorities have instituted their own texting bans. In Texas, for instance, cities such as Austin and El Paso have enacted cellphone and texting prohibitions based on local ordinances.
In places with bans, the consequences of getting pulled over for texting while driving vary from state to state. In California, for instance, those caught texting while behind the wheel face a fine of $20 for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses. Illinois drivers can expect to pay between $75 and $150. New Yorkers must pay a fine of $150 for texting while driving; they also face two points being added to their driving record.
In some states, such as Connecticut and Massachusetts, a driver can face criminal charges for texting while driving if a crash occurs and a person is injured.