Will You Go To Jail For Mobile Phone Use While Driving? [Opinion]

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cell phone use while drivingOne of the reasons why the smartphone has become popular is its mobility. Now you can read email, browse the web or watch videos from almost anywhere. This has naturally translated to in-car use, resulting in predictably deadly consequences.

In response, legislators across the world are banning the use of mobile phones in cars. Does this mean you’ll be thrown in jail, much like a person distracted by alcohol or some other substance?

The Only Bars You’ll See Are On Your Phone – Probably

cell phone use while driving

After some searching, I’ve been unable to find any law in any country that suggests a person should see jail time just for using a mobile phone in their car. Some of the more extreme anti-distraction advocates have certainly suggested that, but it hasn’t translated to reality.

With that said, there are certainly reports of people being jailed because they caused a fatal accident while using their phone. Michael Leach of the United Kingdom received a jail sentence of four years for causing a head-on collision while speaking on his mobile phone.

This has been happening for years in the United States. Mark Benson collided with a car carrying a pregnant woman while he was one the phone. The collision killed the woman and resulted in a 30-year sentence for Mr. Benson. A woman in California named Deborah Matis-Engle received a 6-year sentence for causing a fatal crash while texting on her phone.

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What connects the cases where people receive jail time is death or serious injury. It’s the result, not the action, that is being prosecuted – usually under general “deadly driving” or “dangerous driving” laws rather than anything targeted towards cell phones.

So while using your mobile while driving will not land you in jail by itself, it may be considered a contributing factor if you’re in an accident, which can lead to prosecution. In other words, using your phone is a bit of a gamble – you probably won’t hit anyone. But what if you do?

You Won’t Always Be Pulled Over For Using Your Mobile

jail for mobile phone use in cars

Most people assume that you can be ticketed for using your mobile phone. That’s not currently the case in many areas of the world. In my home state of Oregon the use of cell phones is banned entirely, but in some many areas a law extends only to certain drivers, such as those who are under a certain age.

Bans against texting while driving are more prevalent than those that ban mobile phone use entirely. In the United States there are 35 states that will ticket for texting, but only nine that ban all phone use. There are some states that don’t have any rules at all. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has a handy map that breaks down current bans across the United States.

Europeans can view national laws regarding the use of mobile phones in car (as well as other roadway rules) by visiting the Automotive Association’s driving requirements page.

The Rules Are Rapidly Changing

cell phone use while driving

Use of mobile phones in vehicles is a relatively new subject, and the laws regulating it are changing rapidly. In the United States it has so far been up to individual states to set their own rules, but the federal government is pushing for nationwide rules. Even state laws frequently change and are trending towards comprehensive bans. Though I’m less familiar with other portions of the world (being a U.S. citizen) it does seem that this trend is global.

If you use your phone while driving it’s wise to keep up to date with current law. There are sometimes exceptions for people who must be on the phone for work-related reasons, or as part of their profession (tow trucker drivers, for example, are often exempted).

Or you can could just bypass the controversy and purchase a hands-free headset or a hands-free app. This will pass muster in most parts of the world, though there are some legislators who’ve suggested even these hands-free devices should not be allowed.

For tips on how to be a safer driver, check out our article covering five websites that can help you travel the roadways more safely.

Image Credit: Davidson Scott, The Opus, Sean Dreilinger

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6 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Colin

There is absolutely no excuse for using a phone while driving. Research has shown that using a phone while driving is equivalent to drunk-driving.

Every year the number of cars on the road increases, as does the number of speeding drivers, drunk drivers, tired drivers, dumb drivers, etc – all that separates you from them is a couple of inches of white paint down the middle of the road. The concentration level required to avoid these idiots increases year on year

is it so vital for you to call someone, that it can’t wait a few seconds for you to pull over and concentrate on that call?

Because if you don’t concentrate on the road, you may not notice that the driver coming toward you on their mobile phone is just as far across the white line as you are on your mobile phone – by the time you both do realise it, it may be too late. Don’t phone and drive – period.

Jason

Wow – what a bunch of lemmings – I guess if you had a clue and found out more kids are killed in swimming pools you’d be fine if the government banned those as well. It’s pretty obvious that cell phones are not as bad as drunk driving – they simply cannot be. You can put a cell phone down – you can’t stop being drunk. The only reason cell phones are being banned as opposed to – say radios – is they can track your cell phone use and determine exactly what you were doing and when. You want the government to tell you how much salt you can put on your food – keep following this path…

Reply

stefan

the state may have not banned them. but the town i live in ohio has . as of jan 1

Reply

JohnBUK

Driving whilst using your ‘phone is effectively gambling with your own and, more importantly, other peoples’ lives.
This translates to criminal negligence in UK law.

Reply

BenN

I don’t like to encourage or endorse government stupidity. Bans actually make me want to talk more. If governments or drivers actually care about reducing accidents they will ban and stop rubbernecking, using their radio, engaging with other passengers, fiddling with any other objects in the car, touching temperature controls, eating or drinking… All of these rank higher than cell phones as reasons for distracted driving.
http://www.aaafoundation.org/pdf/distraction.pdf

My state allows you to use your cell phone as a walkie-talkie and hold it directly in front of your face. Move it to the side of your head and you become a criminal. The same agencies that create the bans put out their own glowing results about how cell phone involved crashes are down after the ban. A pretty irrelevant stat- overall crashes do not go down after bans. People just get in accidents trying to find their hands free device or turn their phone on from the radio or whatever.

Bad drivers who don’t pay attention are the problem- how about banning them. Require yearly driving tests.

*I don’t even own a cell phone so I am not defending them to justify my actions; I just dislike solutions to problems that don’t exist. Bad drivers are the problem, not cell phones.

Reply

Darren Reynolds

Whilst driving using a mobile phone you are statistically four times more likely to have an accident. This has always been a controversial subject and will continue to do so. My personal view is that if it so important that you must make or receive a phone call, either pull over or buy a handsfree device.

The other misconception, certainly in the UK is use of ‘Handsfree’. Drivers think that holding the phone and talking on the loud speaker is essentially using it handsfree. Its not.. If you are ‘holding’ a mobile phone (or similar device) whilst driving on a public road then the offence is complete and that with current legislation will give you a minimum of ÂŁ60 fine and 3 points on your licence.

Research into this has shown that a person using a phone whilst driving has significantly worse reaction times than someone driving after drinking alcohol at the legal limit.

With regards to the Michael Leach in the main topic, he was not jailed for using a mobile phone. He was jailed for a causing a death by dangerous driving which is an offence on its own, it was just a contributing and aggravating factor that he was using the phone whilst driving and therefore not in full control of his vehicle and certainly not concentrating on the roads and his surroundings thus ‘Dangerous Driving’. If he had been in control then the person he killed may still be alive today.

Simple, don’t use your phone whilst driving!!!! :-)

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