Safe driver discounts are one of the best ways to save money on your car insurance, but old habits die hard. If you’ve grown used to chatting away on your handheld cell phone while cruising down the freeway, better check out the new state laws. This is exactly the kind of ticket that can send your auto insurance quotes soaring.
As of January 2010 (or earlier in some cases) California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands made it against the law for any driver to use a handheld cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. Except for Washington State, you can be ticketed for cell phone use without breaking any other traffic laws. Like Washington, several other states consider cell phone use a ticketable offense only if it’s connected to another driving infraction.
While no state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, many prohibit or limit use. Novice drivers (think learner’s permit or Level One on a graduated licensing scale) are banned from cell phone use in 21 states and D.C. Seventeen states and D.C. prohibit school bus drivers from using any kind of cell phone when passengers are present.
For the Darwin-award candidates out there, many states also added laws expressly prohibiting texting while driving. As of last October, that also applies to 4.5 million federal employees (including the military) while conducting government business.
Why all the fuss? Is this another nanny-state intrusion on our unalienable rights? Maybe, but there’s also a body of research that connects the dots between driving, cell phone use and the likelihood of smashing into someone or something. The biggest argument is that using a cell phone is a distraction and since cell phone use is so prevalent, it increases the odds of an accident. However, it’s also been shown that reaching for a moving object (that falling cup of hot coffee, say) increases the risk of a crash or near crash by a factor of nine, compared to a 1.3 increase while using a hand-held cell phone. That a handheld is considered more dangerous than a hands-free cell phone has not been conclusively proven, but for now, hands-free models are not outlawed.
Regardless of whether or not you believe these laws are just another way to fill the coffers of cash-strapped states and municipalities, your objective is maintaining a safe driver discount and lower auto insurance premiums. So before you reach for the hand-held, remember, car insurance premiums are based on statistics. Get a ticket for using your cell phone, enter a higher risk silo. So put down the phone and drive.