State laws restricting driver use of mobile communications devices distracted-driving provisions, 1992-2010

Am J Prev Med. 2011 Jun;40(6):659-65. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2011.02.024.


Background: State laws limiting the use of mobile communications devices (MCDs) by drivers are being enacted at an accelerating pace. Public health law research is needed to test various legislative models and guide future legal innovation.

Purpose: To define the current state of the law, facilitate new multi-state evaluations, and demonstrate the utility of systematic, scientific legal research methods to improve public health services research.

Methods: Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis were used to create a 50-state, open-source data set of laws restricting the use of any form of MCD while operating a motor vehicle that were in effect between January 1, 1992, and November 1, 2010. Using an iterative process, the search protocol included the following terms: cellphone, cell phone, cellular phone, wireless telephone, mobile telephone, text, hands-free, cell! and text! The text and citations of each law were collected and coded across 22 variables, and a protocol and code book were developed to facilitate future public use of the data set.

Results: Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have at least one form of restriction on the use of MCDs in effect. The laws vary in the types of communication activities and categories of driver regulated, as well as enforcement mechanisms and punishments. No state completely bans use of MCDs by all drivers.

Conclusions: State distracted-driving policy is diverging from evidence on the risks of MCD use by drivers. An updatable data set of laws is now available to researchers conducting multistate evaluations of the impact of laws regulating MCDs by drivers. If this data set is shown to be useful for this public health problem, similar rigorously developed and regularly updated data sets might be developed for other public health issues that are subject to legislative interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Accidents, Traffic / prevention & control
  • Automobile Driving / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Cell Phone / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United States