Is Texting while driving a crime in DC?

Updated on April 16th, 2024 at 07:00 pm

The Distracted Driving Safety Act of 2004 makes it illegal for drivers to use a cell phone or other electronic device while driving in DC to limit car crashes caused by distracted drivers. The only exception to this law is if your cellphone or device is equipped with a hands-free accessory.

Texting while driving can lead to fatal consequences. Alexandra Mansonet, the chief executive of the Jewish Renaissance Foundation, a local nonprofit in northern New Jersey, was found guilty by a jury of her peers of vehicular homicide. The case relied heavily on a 2012 law in the state, which places texting while driving on the same criminal level as drunk driving. This means that in the case of death due to the incident, a vehicular homicide charge is filed.

Although previous cases have never reached this point, this case serves as a microcosm for the growing number of distracted driving cases in the court system, which sends a message to other states moving forward. So, what are the current rules and regulations regarding distracted driving in DC?

Distracted Driving Statistics

Modern conveniences, like cell phones, may make life easier, but they also come with a cost. As cell phone use has continued to rise, so has the number of distracted driving cases across the country. According to the Department of Transportation, 2,841 fatalities involving distracted drivers occurred in 2018. Though technically a small decrease from 2017, the percentage of those involving cellphone usage was up.

Over the past six years, 9.5% of fatal car crashes have involved distracted driving — 14 % of those involved cell phones. Based on a study by the CDC, approximately 9 deaths and over 1,000 injuries occur involving a distracted driver every single day.

A growing number of those killed are pedestrians.

When looking at the numbers, it is clear distracted driving cases are numerous, on the rise, and now increasingly resulting in the death or injury of pedestrians.

Mobile Phone Laws

Laws restricting the use of cell phones and other handheld devices are nothing new in this country. Since 2001, there have been laws in place that outlaw driver cell phone usage.

Currently, 25 states, DC, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, have passed laws banning cell phone use when driving, sometimes with additional laws restricting texting, calling, or other miscellaneous tasks.

Of those remaining with no outright bans, there still are laws that limit their use by individuals, such as those under the age of 18 or bus drivers.

In DC, it is illegal for all motorists to use a cell phone or other electronic device not equipped with a hands-free accessory any time the vehicle is in motion. According to the law, “use” includes talking on, placing, or receiving a call, as well as using a device for composition to send, receive, or read something.

The definition of “use” is relatively common. But what is considered “hands-free”?

Many think an external piece of hardware is required for the use of the phone to be considered legal. While this is true, internal components also qualify. As long as the driver can have two hands on the wheel, then it is considered to be a ‘hands-free’ accessory.

Emergency Use of a Cell Phone in the District

In the case of emergency use of a cell phone, use by law enforcement, initiating or terminating a call, or turning off a cell phone, the charge of distracted driving is not applicable. Regardless of hands-free accessories, school bus drivers or those with a learner’s permit are not permitted to use a cell phone.

What Are the Penalties for Distracted Driving in DC?

If convicted of distracted driving, the penalties can vary. For the 1st violation in 18 months, a $100 fine is applied. Payment can be avoided if proof of acquisition of a hands-free accessory is provided prior to the fine being imposed. A 2nd violation within 18 months will result in a $150 fine. Three or more violations result in a $200 fine and a license suspension of 30-90 days.

If death, injury, or property damage of over $10,000 occurs due to distracted driving, the driver would likely be charged with aggravated reckless driving or negligent homicide.

What Is Aggravated Reckless Driving in DC?

In DC, you can be charged with aggravated reckless driving if your speeds exceed 30 mph over the posted limit, you cause bodily harm or permanent disability to another, or you cause property damage over $10,000.

What Are the Penalties for Aggravated Reckless Driving in DC?

Penalties for a 1st offense aggravated reckless driving charge include up to 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. A 2nd offense can include up to 1-year in jail and/or a $2,500 fine, plus 12 points on your driving record. In the case of death, it is likely a negligent homicide case would be brought.

Defense for Distracted Drivers

Proving distracted driving without an admission by the driver, witness testimony identifying the driver as distracted, or video evidence is incredibly difficult. If you have been charged with distracted driving, reckless driving, or any other related crimes in DC or Maryland, contact Bruckheim & Patel for a free consultation with one of our criminal defense attorneys.

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