One 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
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.
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
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
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.