Just the other day I was sitting at a stop sign in Raleigh waiting for a car to pass and what do you think the driver of this car was doing as they were driving down the road…….that’s right, texting. Now, I am not here to pass judgment, I’ve found myself doing the same at one time or another. With that being said, it is important that all drivers are aware of the risks of distracted driving, especially texting while driving. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent – at 55 mph – of driving the length of an entire football field blindfolded.
A Guide to North Carolina’s Distracted Driving Laws
Over the years, distracted driving has become such a significant public safety concern that North Carolina banned texting while driving in 2009. North Carolina General Statute 20-137.4A states that it shall be unlawful for any person to operate a vehicle on a public street or highway or public vehicular area while using a mobile telephone to manually enter multiple letters or text in a device as a means of communicating with another person; or read any electronic mail or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any name or number stored in the device nor to any caller identification information.
A violation of this law shall be an infraction and shall be punishable by a fine of $100.00 and the costs of court. If someone driving a school bus violates this law, then the violation shall be a Class 2 misdemeanor and shall be punishable by a fine of not less than $100.00. No drivers license points or insurance points shall be assessed as a result of violating this law.
North Carolina has laws in place to discourage distracted driving, and these laws apply to more than just texting. In an effort to make the roads safer, the state has included several distractions under the “don’t drive distracted” umbrella. In general, North Carolina prohibits the following while driving:
Watching videos or movies (even if they are paused!)
Texting while driving
Sending electronic mail
Reading printed materials
Using a computer or other device that requires your full attention
Talking on the phone (unless it’s hands-free)
Eating and drinking
Grooming (including applying makeup, shaving, or styling hair)
What Is Distracted Driving?
To put it simply, distracted driving is doing anything while driving that takes your mind or eyes off the road.
It can be anything from adjusting the air conditioner to looking up directions on your cell phone while driving. However, the most common problem is using a cell phone, which is why state lawmakers are focusing on it the most.
Legislators in North Carolina are currently concentrating mostly on passing texting laws and reducing distracted driving collisions that are brought on by texting while driving.
Distracted Driving Statistics in North Carolina
6,000 people are injured in distracted driving-related accidents in North Carolina every year.
Texting while driving quadruples your risk of crashing.
17% of drivers in North Carolina reported using their cell phones while driving in the last 30 days.
In North Carolina, handheld mobile phone use behind the wheel is illegal for all drivers, regardless of age.
56% of distracted driving accidents happened on the weekends (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).
12% of distracted driving accidents happened at night.
Texting and driving accounted for 18% of distracted driving accidents.
Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in North Carolina?
While handheld cell phone use is banned for all drivers in North Carolina, some drivers are allowed to use a hands-free device and won’t receive a driving fine. These include:
Drivers who have a medical condition that prevents them from using their hands
Emergency responders (e.g. fire department)
Drivers who are giving assistance to a disabled person
School bus drivers
Other exceptions to the distracted driving laws in North Carolina include:
When you have pulled over to the side of the road (and are lawfully parked)
When young drivers (under 18) need to call their parent or legal guardian
When a police officer gives you explicit permission to use your device
Can You Text at a Red Light in NC?
Do you ever find yourself at a red light and just dying to read the text that just popped up? You are not alone!
Many people are tempted to read that text while stopped at a red light, but is it safe to do so? The answer is no.
If you are reading or replying to a text, you are distracted and therefore are breaking the law.
Will NC Strengthen Its Distracted Driving Laws?
With thousands of people injured every year, North Carolina lawmakers are looking to strengthen the state’s distracted driving laws. Specifically, lawmakers are considering expanding the ban on handheld mobile phones to include all drivers, no matter their age. Many states have adopted stricter laws against handheld cellphone use following several high-profile distracted driving cases, but most allow some exceptions to the rule. North Carolina has been strict from the beginning, making the state one of the toughest in the country.
The state has been looking into strengthening its distracted driving laws, but the new laws have not been finalized yet. In early 2019, the state legislature proposed a bill that would charge drivers with texting while driving with a misdemeanor. This bill also proposed increasing fines for distracted driving violations. If the bill passes, you can expect to see stronger penalties for distracted driving in North Carolina.
Fines and Driver’s License Points
The fines for distracted driving in North Carolina vary depending on the charge you are issued:
Primary offense: $100 fine.
Second offense: $100 fine and one driver’s license point.
Third offense: $100 fine and two driver’s license points.
New misdemeanor charge: $250 fine and three driver’s license points.
For a first offense, the driver won’t get any points added to their driving record. Plus, their insurance company won’t charge them any points. But the punishment is worse for school bus drivers. If a school bus driver is caught texting while driving, they will be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor, not a traffic infraction. The penalty is at least $100.
Under federal rules, commercial truck drivers are also not allowed to text and drive. If a commercial driver gets two convictions in three years, they will have their commercial license suspended for 60 days. If they get three convictions in three years, their license could be taken away for 120 days.
Can Drivers Fight a Ticket for Texting While Driving?
If you are issued a ticket for texting while driving, you can fight it if there’s reasonable doubt. There are several ways to go about disputing the ticket, including going to court and hiring legal representation.
If you want to fight the ticket on your own, you can do so by pleading not guilty. When you do this, you will be sent to court and will need to prepare for the hearing. Court costs or court fees apply in any case.
To prepare for the hearing, make sure to have the following information ready:
The date, time, and location of your hearing
The police officer’s name and badge number
The ticket you were issued
Photos or any other evidence that might help your case
In order to successfully fight the ticket, you’ll have to prove one of the following:
The police officers didn’t see you texting while driving
There was no officer present
There was no valid reason to stop you
The officer mistook your mobile device for a handheld device
The officer mistook another object for a handheld device
In order to fight a ticket, you’ll need to go to court. Because this is a complicated process, it’s best to hire an attorney for help. Even if you lose the case, it’s better than paying the fine.
Other Areas Of Criminal Law
Our criminal defense attorneys are able to represent you for a variety of charges, including:
- Child Support
- DMV hearings
- Domestic violence
- Drug offenses
- Gun Rights Restoration
- Hunting Violations
- Juvenile offenders
- Parole violation
- Property crimes
- Sex Crimes
- Speeding tickets
- Suspended licenses
- Underage Drinking
Be Safe, Don’t Text While Driving
We are entering our holiday season and many of us will be traveling. I hope you will be careful while traveling and resist the urge to text or email while driving. That text or email can wait. It is not important enough to risk the safety of yourself and others.
Kirk, Kirk, Howell, Cutler & Thomas is your choice for a traffic lawyer in Wake County. If you have a speeding ticket, give our attorneys a call at 919-615-2473 and we can discuss this ticket and what it means for your insurance.
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