Cell phone restriction laws for teenage drivers may not be having their intended effect.
According to a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, North Carolinian teenagers continued to use cell phones while driving as frequently as they had before the restrictions were passed. In fact, the study found that cell phone use actually increased from 11 percent of teens to 12 percent after the law’s passage. In comparison, the study found that South Carolina teenagers used cell phones about the same as their North Carolina counterparts. However, South Carolina has no similar restriction on cell phone use.
Why has the law been so ineffective? One of the primary reasons is that the law is difficult to enforce. As written, the law broadly prohibits cell phone use (including the hands-free variety) but its limitations only apply to teenagers younger than eighteen. Thus, police must ascertain the age of the driver and in some cases, decide whether the driver is using a cell phone with a hands-free accessory.
A recent article by USA Today reports that only 37 citations were issued in 2007 for violations and while 2008 has seen 28 citations, the actual and perceived lack of may figure into the law’s lackluster effect, the study suggests.
Regionally, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia have similar restrictions in place on cell phone use while driving:
- In the District of Columbia, drivers of any age are prohibited from using a hand-held cell phone while driving unless it is equipped with a hands-free accessory. (D.C. Code 50-1731.04). However, school bus drivers and learner’s permit holders are prohibited from using a cell phone while driving even with a hands-free accessory. (D.C. Code 50-1731.05).
- In Maryland, learner’s permit or intermediate license holders under eighteen-years-old are prohibited from using a "wireless communication device," whether hand-held or hands-free, while driving. (Md. Code Ann. Transportation 21-1124).
- In Virginia, provisional license holders are prohibited from using any hand-held or hands-free "wireless telecommunications device" unless the vehicle is lawfully stopped or parked. (Va Code 46.2-334.01).
Notwithstanding the above restrictions, all three states allow the use of a cell phone in an emergency. For other states, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has compiled a list of state-by-state cell phone use restrictions.
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