You’ve seen it before, just ahead of you, on the highway. That car is drifting in and out of your lane. Should you slow down? Should you try to pass? Finally you pass the car, and see the driver’s eyes down in his lap, playing with his cell phone.

This scenario has become all-too-common. And due to the increased risk of accidents posed by drivers who are distracted by cell phones, most states in the U.S. have passed laws regarding their use by someone who is driving. In particular, texting while driving laws have become especially important, since texting requires the driver’s full attention on his/her phone. Texting while driving is dangerous, and puts you and others in serious danger.

The Facts on Distracted Driving

Here’s the ugly truth about America’s driving habits. In 2011, 387,000 people were injured and 3,331 people were killed in automobile accidents involving a distracted driver. For teenage drivers implicated in those accidents, 20 percent were using a cell-phone at the time. In fact, at any moment during the day, 660,000 drivers in this country are using their cell-phones while they are driving. Certain cell-phone behaviors make drivers more likely to lose their focus on the road. Performing visual tasks such as grabbing for a phone, dialing, or texting increase a driver’s chances of crashing by three times over driving attentively.

Laws Banning the Practice

In an attempt to curb this behavior, 11 states, as well as the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam, have passed laws banning motorists from using their cell phones at all while driving. But texting while driving is a particularly difficult problem. As such, 41 states and the other four U.S. territories have laws completely banning texting while driving. The states that do not have laws totally prohibiting this practice are:

  • Arizona
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Texas

Enforcement

Having a law on the books is not enough. The way each state enforces the law makes a difference as well. Of the 41 states that have banned texting while driving, all but four have made it a primary law. When it comes to motor vehicle regulations, primary laws mean that an officer can pull over a driver for that particular misdeed, without requiring another moving violation such as speeding. Florida is the latest state to pass texting while driving laws, which will go into effect October 1, 2013. Florida’s law will be a secondary law, which means that officers cannot stop motorists who are texting while driving unless they are committing another violation. Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio complete the list of states with secondary laws.

Some of the states that have not completely forbidden texting while driving have placed limits on this behavior for certain groups. For example, Mississippi bans bus drivers and novice drivers from texting while driving. And New Mexico bans those with a learner or provisional license from it. Texas, on the other hand, bans drivers from texting if they have a passenger under the age of 17, and also for the first year that a person has a provisional license. All these situation-specific laws are primary laws.

Other Forms of Distracted Driving

Texting while driving isn’t the only form of distracted driving. While texting and driving causes many accidents and deaths each year, and it has been at the top of everyone’s radar in the past few years, there are many other forms of distracted driving. Here are a few of the other forms of distracted driving that we should be aware of, and that we should work very hard to avoid:

  • Texting: texting while driving
  • Other cell phone uses: making phone calls, listening to voicemail, etc
  • Smartphone uses: checking your email, looking up an address on the internet, etc
  • Putting on makeup, shaving, brushing your teeth, etc (you’d be surprised how many drivers do this on their way to work or school, even on really busy roads or in heavy traffic!)
  • Eating and/or drinking
  • Music or other entertainment: changing a cd, turning up the volume, etc. People have even been seen reading or watching a movie while driving!
  • GPS: yes, they are made for the car, but they can still be a distraction!
  • Passenger distractions: conversations, arguments, etc.

Conclusion

The fact is, distracted driving (including texting while driving, as well as some of the other forms of distracted driving) is dangerous driving. It’s some of the most dangerous driving you can do. When you get in the car, the best decision you can make is to place your cell-phone away from you, and avoid using it at all until you arrive safely at your destination.