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OLR Research Report


February 26, 2010

 

2010-R-0104

CELL PHONE BANS AND TICKETS

By: Paul Frisman, Principal Analyst

You asked how many northeastern states prohibit talking or texting on a cell phone while driving, and what fines they impose for violating the bans. You also want to know how many tickets Connecticut police have issued in the past three years to drivers who violated the state's cell phone ban.

SUMMARY

We looked at the six New England states, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. All but Vermont and Pennsylvania have some form of ban on talking or texting on hand-held cell phones or other devices while driving.

The laws vary depending on the type of communication device, (e.g., hand-held or hands free); the type of communication (talking or texting), and the age or type of driver (e.g., novice or school bus drivers).

Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones to talk or text. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island prohibit school bus drivers from using any type of cell phone. Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, and Rhode Island prohibit novice drivers and those under 18 from talking or texting on any type of cell phone. New Hampshire and Rhode Island prohibit all drivers from texting. But these states generally allow drivers to use these phones in an emergency.

Several states impose fines of up to $100 for first offenders, with some states increasing the fine for subsequent offenses.

We provide a table of the various state laws below. More information on these and other state laws on cell phone use and texting can be found at http://www.iihs.org/laws/cellphonelaws.aspx and http://www.ncsl.org/?tabid=17057.

According to the Connecticut's Judicial Department, the courts processed 33,465 tickets for violations of the cell phone law in 2007, 40,962 in 2008, and 28,867 between January 1 and September 30, 2009, the latest date for which data is readily available. These numbers do not precisely reflect the number of tickets issued each year because the cases may not have been disposed of in the same year police issued the ticket.

NORTHEASTERN STATE LAWS ON CELL PHONE USE WHILE DRIVING

Applicability

Table 1 summarizes the applicable laws in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. State laws banning the use of hand-held cell phones generally allow their use in emergencies. Text messaging bans generally also apply to sending and receiving emails. The narrative following the table provides more information on the laws and accompanying fines.

Distracted Driving Laws

In addition to laws specifically addressing cell phone use, Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire also have laws prohibiting distracted or negligent driving. Connecticut prohibits any activity unrelated to a motor vehicle's actual operation that interferes with its safe operation. Maine bars drivers from engaging in any activity that (1) is not necessary to the vehicle's operation and (2) actually impairs, or would be reasonably expected to impair, the driver's ability to safely operate the vehicle. New Hampshire bars drivers from driving negligently, or causing a vehicle to be driven negligently, in a manner that endangers, or is likely to endanger, people or property. We summarize these laws in Table 1.

Table 1: State Laws on Cell Phone use and Text Messaging

State

Ban On Hand-Held Cell Phones

Ban On All Cell Phone Use By Teen Drivers

Ban On All Cell Phone Use By School Bus Drivers

Texting Ban

General Distracted/Negligent Driving Law

Amount Of Fine, First Offense

Connecticut

Yes (CGS 14-296aa (b))

Yes (CGS 14-296aa (c))

Yes (CGS 14-296aa (d))

Yes (CGS 14-296aa (b))

Yes (CGS 14-296aa (e))

Up to $100; fine suspended if driver proves he or she acquired hands-free device before fine is imposed

Maine

No

Yes (29-A MRSA 2116)

No

Yes, but applies only to drivers under 18 (29-A MRSA 2116). Also bans playing video games.

Yes (29-A MRSA 2118)

At least $50

Massachusetts

No (Cell phone use permitted as long as driver keeps one hand on wheel, Mass. Gen. Laws, Ch. 90, 13)

No

Yes (Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 90, 7B)

No

No

Up to $35

New Hampshire

No

No

No

Yes (N.H. Rev. Stat. 265:105-a)

Yes (N.H. Rev. Stat. 265:79-b)

$100 for violating the texting ban

New Jersey

Yes

(N. J. Stat. Ann. 39:4-97.3)

Yes (N.J. Stat. Ann. 39:3-13.2a)

Yes (N. J. Stat. Ann. 39:3B-25)

Yes (N. J. Stat. Ann. 39:4-97.3) (bars any use of wireless communication device).

No

$100 for violating the hand-held ban;

$250 to $500 for school bus drivers

New York

Yes

(N.Y. Veh. & Traf. 1225-c)

No

No

Yes, (N.Y. Veh. & Traf. 1225-d) (also bars playing video games)

No

Up to $100 for violating hand-held ban; up to $150 for violating texting ban

Rhode Island

No

Yes (R.I. Gen. Laws 31-22-11.8

Yes (R.I. Gen. Laws 31-22-11.9

Yes (Senate Bill 0204, Sub B, 2009 session, signed by governor November 9, 2009)

 

$50 for cell phone use;

$85 for text messaging

Fines for Violating the Bans

Connecticut. Connecticut drivers who violate the hand-held phone or texting ban face a maximum fine of $100, except that the fine for a first offense may be suspended if the driver proves he or she acquired a hands-free device between the time of the offense and the imposition of a fine.

In addition, Connecticut also prohibits (1) school bus drivers from using a mobile phone or any other electronic device while driving a bus containing passengers and (2) drivers under 18 from using a mobile phone while the vehicle is moving, regardless of whether it has a hands-free accessory. Violators face a maximum fine of $100 (CGS 14-296aa (c) and (d)).

Under the law, a driver who commits a moving violation while engaged in an activity unrelated to operating the vehicle that interferes with its safe operation must pay a $100 fine in addition to any fine imposed for committing the moving violation (CGS 14-296aa(i)).

Maine. Maine drivers under 18 who violate the law face a fine of at least $50 for a first offense and at least $250 for a second or subsequent offense. Violation of Maine's distracted driving law is a traffic infraction.

Massachusetts. Violators of the Massachusetts laws face a maximum fine of $35 for a first offense, between $35 and $75 for a second offense, and between $75 and $150 for a subsequent offense committed within a 12-month period.

New Hampshire. New Hampshire drivers who drive negligently face a fine of between $250 and $500 for a first offense and between $500 and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

Rhode Island. Rhode Island imposes fines of $50 on school bus drivers who use a cell phone, and for the first and second convictions of a minor who drives while using one. Minors who commit a third or subsequent offense face a $100 fine and the loss of their license until they reach their 18th birthday. Rhode Island drivers who send or read text messages face a fine of $85 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense, and $125 for a third or subsequent offense.

TICKETS ISSUED UNDER CONNECTICUT CELL PHONE LAW

Cell Phone Law Prohibitions

Tickets issued under Connecticut's cell phone law reflect the various bans the law imposes on drivers.

The law's main provision prohibits a driver from using, while driving a motor vehicle, (1) a mobile telephone to engage in a call while the vehicle is moving unless (a) he or she uses a hands-free telephone or (b) the call concerns an emergency or (2) any mobile electronic device.

It defines a “mobile electronic device” as any hand-held or other portable electronic equipment capable of providing data communication between two or more people, including devices for text messaging or paging, a personal digital assistant, a laptop computer, equipment capable of playing a video game or digital video disk, or equipment on which digital photographs are taken or transmitted. A mobile electronic device does not include audio equipment or any equipment installed in the vehicle to provide navigation CGS 14-296aa (b)). The law also prohibits:

1. a school bus driver from using a (a) mobile telephone, whether hand-held or hands free, or (b) mobile electronic device in a moving bus containing passengers (CGS . 14-296aa (c));

2. drivers under age 18 from using a (a) mobile telephone, whether hand-held or hands free, or (b) mobile electronic device while the vehicle is moving (CGS 14-296aa(d)); and

3. anyone from engaging in an activity unrelated to a vehicle's operation in a manner that interferes with the vehicle's safe operation (CGS 14-296aa (e)).

Number of Tickets Issued to Connecticut Drivers for Using a Cell Phone

The Judicial Department keeps track of cell phone cases when the cases are processed or disposed of, not when they are issued. In other words, a case involving a ticket issued in 2008 case might not be disposed of until 2009. The statistics therefore reflect, but do not precisely represent, the number of tickets issued each year.

According to the department the courts processed 33,465 tickets for violations of the cell phone law in 2007, 40,962 in 2008, and 28,867 between January 1 and September 30, 2009.

Table 2, below, shows the number of tickets disposed of in 2007, 2008, and the first nine months of 2009 for the specific violation alleged.

Table 2: Number of tickets issued to drivers for violating the state's cell phone ban

Year

Hand-Held Cell Phone Violations

( 14-296aa (b))

School Bus Drivers

(Any Mobile Phone)

( 14-296aa (c))

Drivers Under 18 (Any Mobile Phone)

( 14-296aa (d))

Drivers Committing A Moving Violation While Engaged In An Activity Not Directly Related To Operating The Vehicle

( 14-296aa (i))

Total

2007

33,112

80

48

225

33,465

2008

40,539

69

29

325

40,962

2009*

28,476

62

26

303

28,867

* through September 30, 2009.

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