Can You Use a Cell Phone While Driving? (North Carolina Distracted Driving Laws)

driving while distracted by mobile device

If you live in North Carolina, or reside elsewhere and visit the Outer Banks or another part of the state, you need to be completely familiar with our state laws that limit cell phone use while driving. The laws prohibit specific uses of a handheld device in an effort to curtail distracted driving, which is one of the leading causes of traffic accidents, injuries, and fatalities in North Carolina and nationwide.

State Laws on Distracted Driving and Cell Phone Use

Each state has control over a driver’s use of a cell phone and other handheld device. Almost every state has a law that prohibits cell phone use to some extent — but they vary greatly. That’s a big problem for those who frequently drive across state borders. To complicate matters even more, the laws can change frequently, and some local jurisdictions in other states pass their own cell phone laws as well.

While the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that localities in the state cannot pass local cell phone regulations, at least one locality in the neighboring state of Virginia has done so. The City of Richmond recently banned any use of a handheld device while driving within the city limits. It’s a primary offense, which means you can be pulled over if you violate the law.

Use of Cell Phones While Driving in North Carolina

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Here’s a summary of the exceptions:

  • The prohibition does not apply to reading a name or number, including caller identification information.
  • It does not apply to a driver whose vehicle is lawfully parked or stopped.
  • Use of handsfree systems (voice-operated technology), GPS (global position systems), or wireless devices that are part of a dispatch system is permitted.
  • The prohibition does not apply to law enforcement officers, members of fire departments, or ambulance operators.

There are important additional prohibitions. Drivers under 18 years of age are not permitted to use a cell phone or other handheld device while driving for any reason, except to communicate with these people:

  • The driver’s parent, legal guardian, or spouse
  • An emergency response operator, doctor or medical office, ambulance company, law enforcement agency, or fire department

In addition, school bus drivers are prohibited from using a cell phone or other mobile device while the bus is in motion, except for emergency situations.

The North Carolina distracted driving law also includes a prohibition on handheld devices for drivers of specific commercial vehicles. The state ban incorporates the ban in federal law for commercial vehicles involved in interstate commerce but is broader than the federal prohibition. It extends to certain for-hire and private carriers and vehicles. Multiple convictions for commercial drivers can result in loss of driving privileges.

Enforcement & Penalties

The North Carolina texting law is a primary enforcement law. That means you can be pulled over if a law enforcement officer sees you texting or emailing, or just using a cell phone if you are not 18 years old. In some states, enforcement of texting and cell phone laws is secondary, which means you can only be charged if you were pulled over for a different offense. That is not the case in North Carolina.

A fine of $25 is assessed on a person under age 18 who is charged with violating the cell phone prohibition. The law specifically provides that no driver’s license points, insurance surcharge, or court costs can be assessed.

A $100 fine plus court costs applies to a violation of the texting/email provisions of North Carolina law. For a school bus driver infraction, the offense is a Class 2 misdemeanor, and the fine can be even higher. Driver’s license points and insurance surcharges are not assessed for a conviction.

Talk With Our Northeastern North Carolina Traffic Law Attorneys

Our criminal defense and traffic law attorneys at The Twiford Law Firm have substantial experience representing individuals facing all types of traffic and criminal charges in state and federal court. With offices in Elizabeth City and Moyock, we serve clients throughout Northeastern North Carolina. Contact us today at 252-338-4151 or 252-435-2811 to schedule an initial consultation.

Categories: Criminal Defense