The National Transportation Safety Board touched off a torrent of kudos and criticism when it recommended a nationwide ban on texting and talking on a cellphone while driving. On Dec. 13, 2011, the federal agency urged all 50 states and the District of Columbia to adopt laws that prohibit two of the main causes of distracted driving.
Yet for many American motorists, texting bans already are a reality. Thirty-five states and D.C. ban text messaging for all drivers. In 32 of those states and D.C., texting while driving is a primary offense. That means a cop can pull you over solely for sending a text while driving.
So, among the states that crack down on texting while driving, which ones have the harshest laws? InsuranceQuotes.com did some digging to come up with the 10 toughest states for drivers who are caught texting behind the wheel. Our review took into account fines and penalties.
Utah is a state known for Mormons and mountains. It's also known for its strictness when it comes to texting while driving.
In Utah, the fine for texting while driving soars as high as $750, the second highest in the country. But it’s the rest of the state's anti-texting law that earns Utah the distinction as the toughest state for texting. If you get into an accident while texting and driving in Utah, you face serious jail time (up to 15 years) and up to a $10,000 fine. If there’s a fatality, you could be charged with a third-degree felony and face even more jail time and fines.
The face of Illinois' most revered political figure, Abraham Lincoln, appears on the penny. And if you're pulled over for driving while texting in the Land of Lincoln, it could cost you a pretty penny. Illinois is the state with the highest fine for texting while driving -- up to $1,000.
As is the case in several other states, Illinois' law covers similar activities like instant messaging, email or surfing the web while driving. In Illinois, texting while driving is a moving violation. Pile up three moving violations in a year, and your license will be suspended.
The fines for texting while driving in the Badger State could cause even Aaron Rodgers, the multimillion-dollar quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, to shudder.
Beginning in December 2010, Wisconsin upped the penalty ante for texting drivers. Now, first-time offenders can be fined as much as $400. Second-time offenders can rack up a fine of up to $800. By comparison, first-time drunken drivers in Wisconsin face fines up to $300.
Furthermore, a Wisconsin motorist who's got a driving-while-texting notch on his record can rack up four points against the driver's license. A driver whose "point bank" reaches 12 in 12 months will have his license suspended for two months. The more points a driver has, the more violations he has committed.
Californians may have the image of being laid-back, but the state is anything but casual when it comes to texting while driving.
In California, a first-time texting offender is slapped with a fine of $159, says Chris Cochran, a spokesman for the California Office of Traffic Safety. “Tickets are being written at an estimated average of 15,000 to 20,000 per month," Cochran says.
You can't even get away with texting at a red light in California. In November 2011, a California court ruled that motorists can't talk or text on a cellphone while waiting for a traffic light to turn green.
5. New York
Lady Liberty frowns on texting while driving.
In June 2010, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that makes texting a primary offense. First-time offenders can be hit with a $150 fine. A state tax of $85 may be tacked on. A texter who's caught in the act also gets two points on his driving record.
Two of Connecticut's best-known residents, Martha Stewart and David Letterman, had better watch it if they're tempted to text while driving.
Connecticut law allows for fines of $100 for a first texting violation, $150 for a second violation and $200 for subsequent violations. Furthermore, judges in Connecticut no longer must suspend a texting fine when a driver provides proof of purchase of a hands-free cellphone before his court date.
7. North Dakota
North Dakota may be small when it comes to population, but it's mighty when it comes to texting while driving. The fine for a texting offense in North Dakota is just $100. But the possible two penalty points on your driving record for texting while driving will add to the pain.
Offenders of the Peach State's texting-while-driving law may not feel so peachy when they go to court. A texting offender can be hit with a $150 fine and have one point put on his driving record. Georgia's law covers texting as well as surfing the web, checking email and using instant messaging while driving.
Motorists in the cradle of America's automotive industry may want to put the brakes on texting while driving. A first-time texting offender in Michigan faces a $100 fine. A subsequent offense can result in a $200 fine. You can be punished for driving while texting if the phone is in your hand or in your lap.
Get stopped for texting while driving in one of the greenest states in the country, and you could end up paying some green. Fines for texting while driving in Oregon climb as high as $142.
While Oregon's fine for texting while driving isn't too harsh, the state gains some respect for its anti-texting attitude.
In January 2012, Oregon will toughen its stance against texting while driving by closing a legal loophole. The loophole allowed drivers to text or talk on their cellphones for business purposes. That activity will be prohibited when the new law takes effect.
And could even tougher laws be on the horizon? Results of a poll taken by Pemco Insurance show 42 percent of drivers in the Portland area think texting violations are serious enough to warrant more than the $142 fine. In fact, nearly one-third of drivers in the Portland area think the texting-while-driving fine should be at least $250.
The lowdown on texting while driving
Mary Bonelli, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Ohio Insurance Institute, says texting-while-driving laws are designed to make roads safer for drivers and passengers alike. But she acknowledges that no anti-texting law is perfect.
“Although well-intentioned, texting bans may be one of the toughest laws to enforce … . But that said, having such laws in place serve as a deterrent. There’s a segment of the driving population who will be less inclined to text while driving if they know it’s against the law. Over time, this may have a positive cumulative effect,” Bonelli says.
But is that deterrent really working?
A 2010 study by the nonprofit Highway Loss Data Institute found no reduction in crashes in states with texting bans compared with states without texting bans. In fact, researchers actually found a slight uptick in crashes in three states with texting bans.
Russ Rader, a spokesman for the institute, says: “We were surprised by that finding, and we're not sure why an increase in crashes would occur. It could mean that drivers are trying to hide their phones below window level, increasing the distraction. We still need to understand more about the effects of the laws."
These laws are aimed at reducing what some have called a traffic epidemic. In 2010, more than 3,000 people were killed in distraction-related car crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The distractions included texting while driving.
“It has taken us years to finally understand the dangers of driving while intoxicated, and we need to do the same for texting,” says Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute.
One thing that we do understand about texting is that it can bump up your auto insurance rates.
While insurance companies use different factors to determine rates, each point tacked onto your driving record could boost the cost of your auto insurance by roughly 15 percent, says Eric Hurt, an agent at SIG Insurance Professionals in Dallas. So if you live in a state that assesses points for moving violations, a texting conviction could mean more money out of your pocket. A traffic violation is taken into account by an auto insurer for at least three years, Hurt says.