Distracted Driving: 2019 NC Laws for Talking on the Phone While Driving

It is a common question that people have because of the growing awareness of cell phone use and efforts to curb distracted driving. The answer is: “It depends.”

Avoid Distracted Driving in North Carolina

Distracted driving of all kinds should be avoided. The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) offers these tips:

  • Don’t text or talk on a phone while driving. (Texting while driving is illegal for drivers under the age of 18 in North Carolina)
  • Don’t eat while driving.
  • Select radio stations or music on personal electronic devices before driving.
  • Have a front-seat passenger deal with maps, navigation systems, heat/AC, or other in-car needs. If driving alone, map out destinations in advance.
  • Do personal grooming at home, not on the road.
  • Teach children the importance of good behavior while in a vehicle. Do not underestimate how distracting it can be to tend to them in the car.
  • Make sure pets are in a carrier.
  • Avoid spending too much time reading signs or watching the activity on the roadside.

Does North Carolina Have Laws to Tackle Distracted Driving?

The answer is yes. As of 2020 under North Carolina state law, drivers under age 18 in North Carolina are generally prohibited from talking on a cell phone while driving —except to have phone conversations with parents, spouses or emergency responders. However,  adults are permitted to talk on a mobile phone while behind the wheel.

In 2019,  an updated “Texting While Driving Laws” states that North Carolina law now prohibits drivers of all ages to use cell phones to send text messages while driving. Below we will dive into more detail why NC says NO to texting and driving and what you can do when you get caught driving while using your phone.

North Carolina lawmakers are considering legislation that would tighten the law and prohibit the use of handheld cell phones—a step that some states have taken.

Our car accident attorneys at Hardison & Cochran have seen the rise in the use of cell phones over the last 10 to 15 years and the corresponding rise in distracted driving accidents. Many people do not fully understand North Carolina’s laws pertaining to cell phone use. Legal or not, we can tell you it is distracting to talk on a phone while driving, and you should avoid doing so unless it is an emergency.

What is Distracted Driving?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines distracted driving as any activity that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving. Drivers can be distracted by talking or texting on a phone, eating and drinking, fiddling with the radio, by talking to other vehicle occupants, by pets or by people or events outside of the vehicle. Driving while daydreaming or lost in thought is identified as distracted driving.

Driving while distracted is a potentially fatal choice. North Carolina’s FY2018 Highway Safety Plan says from 2011–2015 there were 356 fatalities among drivers and passengers in North Carolina motor vehicle crashes in which a driver was found to have been distracted.

The NHTSA adds:

Texting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

In 2017 alone, 3,166 people in the U.S. were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, NHTSA says.

2019 Distracted Driving Laws In North Carolina

It is illegal in North Carolina to:

  • Use a “mobile phone” while operating a motor vehicle if you are under age 18 and the vehicle is in motion ( 20-137.3). However, younger drivers can use a phone behind the wheel of a moving vehicle to talk to their parent, legal guardian or spouse, or to emergency responders or a doctor or hospital.
  • Use a mobile phone while operating a school bus in motion or while stopped, except “for the sole purpose of communicating in an emergency situation” ( 20-137.4).
  • Use a mobile phone to manually enter or read text messages while operating a motor vehicle that is in motion ( 20-137.4A). Law enforcement and emergency responders are exempted while on duty.

This means that, in North Carolina, anyone age 18 or older can talk on a phone while driving a private vehicle at any time, but no driver of any age can legally send text messages while driving.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia prohibit talking on handheld cellphones while driving, regardless of the driver’s age, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Thirty-seven other states and Washington, D.C., restrict the use of all cell phones by novice drivers, as North Carolina does.

Can you text at a red light in NC?

Texting while driving is banned for all drivers in 47 states and the District of Columbia. Two states, Arizona and Missouri, only prohibit novice drivers from texting.

While at a red stop light is also prohibited while driving as it is considered “Operating a vehicle in North Carolina,” and if noticed, you can receive a ticket.

Further, most school bus drivers in the U.S. are banned from texting and using handheld cell phones by state code, regulation or school district policy.

Will NC Strengthen Its Distracted Driving Laws?

Since late February, North Carolina lawmakers have been considering the Hands Free NC Act, a bill in the N.C. House that would make it illegal to talk on a hand-held cell phone while driving. It would be illegal for drivers to hold a “wireless communication device” while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

Drivers age 18 and older could use a mounted phone operable by touching a single button.

The new law would retain the exceptions for using a phone while stopped or in an emergency situation or by certain public officials.

The bill also would impose fines of $100 on a first offense, and $150 and 1 insurance point on a second offense within 36 months (three years) of the first. A third conviction would cost $200 and 2 points.

The bill would give law enforcement the ability to stop drivers simply for holding their phone, whereas now they have to have a reason like speeding or not wearing a seatbelt first, according to WTVD 11 in Durham.


Contact the NC Car Accident Attorneys

Every day, the personal injury lawyers of Hardison & Cochran help people who have suffered serious injuries in car accidents in Raleigh and across the Triangle and North Carolina. Many of these car accidents are caused by distracted drivers.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident that may have been caused by a distracted driver, we can help you. You may be eligible to obtain compensation for your injuries and losses. An initial consultation with one of our attorneys is always free. Contact us today.

About the Author

Hardison & Cochran was established based on the conviction that a modern approach was essential in today’s legal landscape. Focused on delivering exceptional results through a skilled team, the firm prioritizes personal attention, integrity, and client needs. Each attorney, paralegal, and staff member is dedicated to this vision. Over three decades, with Ben Cochran overseeing daily operations, the firm has evolved into a highly respected practice.