Cellphone driving laws: Florida and Massachusetts


Florida has a new law that prohibits texting while driving, which went into effect July 1. It’s called the Wireless Communications While Driving Law. From now until January 1, 2020, drivers who break the law will get a warning, but after that, a $30 fine will be imposed for a first offense, and a $60 fine for a second offense. But that’s actually just the tip of the iceberg – there are court costs, insurance surcharges and more that can make breaking the law quite costly. Florida Today explains why your $30 ticket becomes way more expensive, breaking down additional court costs and fees that bring your actual first-time penalty to $119 in Brevard County. (Each county’s fees may differ)  In addition to that, your auto insurance rates could cost you up to 25% more per year for three years. That means that a quick text could be very costly!

Local 10 offers a recap of what you need to know about Florida’s new texting while driving law. There are some exceptions, which they list as:

“Some exceptions apply. The law does not apply to vehicles that are stationary or to a driver who is:
– Performing official duties, such as operating an emergency vehicle (i.e., law enforcement, fire service professionals, and emergency medical service providers).
– Reporting an emergency, a crime or other suspicious activity to law enforcement.
– Receiving messages that are:
a. related to the operation and/or navigation of the motor vehicle; b. safety-related information (emergency, traffic, and weather alerts); c. data used primarily by the motor vehicle; or d. radio broadcasts.
– Using the device in a hands-free manner for navigation purposes.
– Using the device in a way that does not require manual entry of characters, except to initiate a function or feature.”

Massachusetts cell-phone ban law in the works

Massachusetts residents take note: In June, Boston.com reported that a driver hand-held cellphone ban moves closer to becoming law. The Senate and the House have both approved versions of the law and must now reach agreement on a compromise bill. But be aware that proposed fines are costly:

The bill calls for a fine of $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a subsequent offense. Those who commit a second or subsequent offense would be required to complete a program that “encourages a change in driver behavior and attitude about distracted driving.”

A third or subsequent violation would also be a considered a surchargeable incident under car insurance policies. The bill would allow an exception to using cellphones in the case of an emergency if no one else in the car is able to make the call.

Driving & cellphone use laws by state

Here’s a handy tool to bookmark: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) maintains a summary of cell-phone use laws with maps and a detailed chart listing of cellphone use laws by state.

They summarize three types of prohibitions for cellphone use laws:

  • Hand-held ban laws: Bans on hand-held phone conversations while driving are widespread in other countries and are becoming more common in the U.S. In 2001, New York became the first state to ban hand-held phone conversations by all drivers. Now 20 states and the District of Columbia have similar laws.
  • Texting ban laws: Texting is banned for all drivers in 48 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Young driver phone ban use laws: 38 states and the District of Columbia restrict cellphone use by young drivers.

Cell Phones and Distracted Driving


Cell phones have become ingrained in our culture in an amazingly short time. As a nation, we’ve become accustomed to being available to make or take calls 24/7, no matter where we are. Although the convenience of a cell phone cannot be understated, it’s time to step back a little and be more careful with our phones. 99% of the time, there really isn’t any reason to use your phone while you’re driving. If the call is that important, pull over, stop and take it then.
Studies show that using a cell phone while driving is just about as dangerous as drinking and driving, as shown graphically in this video from 20/20. Yet states have been slow to ban their use outright, with only nine states currently banning the use of hand held phones while driving and 35 more banning texting while driving. That may be changing, as the National Transportation Safety Board has recently released a FAQ sheet on the dangers of distracted driving (PDF) and is calling for a national ban. The idea of a nationwide ban is gaining traction, due partly to a study recently released by California, where traffic deaths have declined by 22% in the two years since hand held cell phone use while driving was banned.
If the ban is passed in all fifty states, how will it affect car insurance rates? Since policies vary so much from state to state, it’s difficult to say. Currently, in New York, being ticketed for cell phone use results in three violation points on your driving record, and a fine up to $100, along with other mandatory fees and surcharges up to $85. The penalties are the same for texting or e-mail use while driving, except the maximum base fine goes up to $150.
Here’s a chart of current State Cell Phone Use & Texting While Driving Laws.

Take the “texting while driving game” to see how you fare with distractions


When it comes to driving distractions like cellphones and texting, most people underestimate the danger that they pose and overestimate their own ability to multitask at the wheel. The New York Times has created a text while driving simulator, an interactive game that measures how your reaction time is affected by external distractions. Try it out and see how you do.
According to a news story accompanying this game, there is extensive research documenting the dangers of distracted driving:

“Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe.
A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cellphone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries.
Yet Americans have largely ignored that research. Instead, they increasingly use phones, navigation devices and even laptops to turn their cars into mobile offices, chat rooms and entertainment centers, making roads more dangerous.”

We’ve previously posted about the increasing trend of states enacting laws against cellphone use and texting while driving along with a chart of state laws banning cellphones and texting while driving.