What Happens When You Get Caught Texting and Driving?

You’re driving along a North Carolina road with your phone on the center console. You get a text from your friend and start replying that you’re on the way. Suddenly, you see the lights of a cop car in your rearview mirror. Thankfully, your texting didn’t cause a crash, but you know you absolutely shouldn’t be texting and driving. How much trouble are you about to get into?

There is a “no texting while driving” law in North Carolina. In addition, North Carolina is a primary enforcement state. That means, even if you’re not swerving or violating any other law, an officer can pull you over if they see you texting and driving. The fine for texting while driving is $100, plus court costs. Both typing and simply reading texts are prohibited.

Here are some common questions people have about texting and driving laws in North Carolina.

Will I Get in Trouble With My Insurance?

A citation for texting while driving does not add points to your license and will not automatically increase your insurance. Of course, if you do something like run the light because you’re texting and get cited, that could certainly increase your coverage rates.

Negligent behavior can also subject you to personal financial liability in a civil lawsuit from any victims you injure. Instead of texting by hand, use hands-free technology like voice-to-text, which is completely permissible while driving.

Can You Text at a Stoplight in North Carolina?

NC law on texting while driving says that drivers over 18 can send and read texts while lawfully stopped or parked. This may apply to being lawfully stopped at a red light. However, you are still operating a vehicle while idling at a traffic signal, so the safest course of action is not to text at a stoplight.

Tip: Don’t text while operating a vehicle for any reason in any manner if you’re a school bus driver.
An experienced North Carolina auto accident attorney can help you after your accident even if you think you may have contributed to it.
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Am I Eligible for Compensation if I Get Hurt by Another While I’m Texting?

In North Carolina, drivers may be completely banned from recovering compensation following a wreck if they contributed to the wreck in any way. This principle is called contributory negligence. However, if you’re texting while driving and get hit by a negligent driver, the fact that you were texting while driving is not automatically contributory negligence. If your texting did not contribute to the accident, you may still be eligible for compensation from the at-fault driver. In a situation like this, you should talk with a lawyer before the insurance company to try to ensure your rights to any compensation are protected.

Cases aren’t always black and white. For example, reading your screen for caller ID information or to make a call is generally permissible. You may also read the GPS on your phone. If your case involves complicated circumstances including texting while driving, it’s best to talk with a car accident lawyer to see if you can seek compensation.

What Is the NC Hands Free Law?

Any cellphone usage by a driver under 18, even hands-free calling or texting, is illegal, and the only exception is if the teen is calling their parents or an emergency responder. However, other than school bus drivers, adults over 18 may text using voice technology and make calls (even without a hands-free device). Texting with your fingers while the vehicle is moving is not permitted for any driver of any age in any circumstances.

What’s on the Horizon for North Carolina Texting and Driving Law?

In 2009, the governor signed into law a ban on texting while driving. Since then, various efforts have been made to strengthen the ban with stiffer penalties. One recent effort is the Hands Free NC Bill, which would outlaw keeping your phone in your lap and potentially add points to your license for violating the texting and driving ban repeatedly.

While the measure has yet to be passed, the bill’s sponsors vow to keep trying. According to one state senator, the bill has broad popular support and “it’s just a matter of time.”

NC Texting While Driving: The Alarming Numbers

We’ve just covered the history and the legal consequences, but there are tremendous human costs associated with texting while driving. According to AAA, distracted driving results in more than 400,000 injuries each year.

In North Carolina, about 3,000 people die in distracted driving crashes every year, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation. In 2020, at least 18% of crashes involved a distracted driver. Overall, distracted driving such as texting contributed to nearly 1,200 crashes, more than 400 injuries, and multiple fatalities statewide in 2020.

What Are the Distractions of Texting and Driving?

According to NHTSA, sending or reading a text takes five seconds. In that time, assuming you’re traveling at 55 MPH, you can drive the length of a football field. With your eyes effectively closed, you can do real harm to yourself and others on the road in that distance.

A recent study conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute revealed some shocking information. The test involved drivers attempting to read or write a text message while driving on an open road and a section of roadway lined with construction barrels. Throughout the test, drivers who were texting reacted much slower than the test subjects who were not texting.

“It is frightening,” the researchers wrote, “to think of how much more poorly our participants may have performed if the driving conditions were more consistent with routine driving.”

Why Do We Still Text and Drive?

According to USA Today, 94% of drivers think that texting while driving is a serious threat to safety and 87% of drivers are in favor of texting bans. However, more than a third of drivers also admitted to reading texts or e-mail while driving.

According to some experts, getting a text (or email or social media) notification is like getting a small payout from a slot machine. You don’t know when you’ll get it. You don’t know what you’ll get. And you don’t know how good it will be. But the anticipation is very exciting and creates a dopamine surge for many.

How Can We Prevent Texting While Driving?

EndDD.org reports that over 90% percent of drivers know cell phone distractions are dangerous and find it “unacceptable” to text or e-mail while driving. Yet, 35% of them do it anyway. Thus, asking if texting and driving is illegal in NC may be a little beside the point. The best question is what can be done to prevent it.

Safe driving starts with each one of us. Potential solutions to prevent texting and driving include:

    • Putting your phone on silent


    • Turning your phone off


    • Putting your cell out of reach, like in the trunk


Can Technology Help Reduce Texting and Driving?

Yes. There are apps and devices to stop texting while driving, or at least help curb it some. For iPhone users, for example, a specific “do not disturb” mode blocks calls and texts when your phone detects you’re in a moving vehicle.

Cellphone blocking technologies can also be useful tools, especially as you ponder how to keep your teen driver safe. For instance, Cellcontrol made a splash a few years back with their DriveID innovation. The device mounts on your dashboard and disables all phone and text functions while the car is in motion (other than emergency services).

Did You Know? It’s not just a phone problem. Eating and driving can be one of the most dangerous forms of distracted driving.

What About Talking on the Phone While Driving? What Are North Carolina Cell Phone Laws for Driving?

North Carolina laws do not prohibit most drivers 18 years and older from talking on their cell phones while driving. However, NC state law does prohibit drivers under the age of 18 from talking on their cell phones while driving, in most cases. North Carolina cell phone laws for driving do allow drivers under the age of 18 to use their cell phones in an emergency situation or to speak with a parent, legal guardian, or spouse in certain circumstances. It should be noted that the North Carolina Department of Transportation recommends that all drivers avoid talking (and texting) on a phone while driving.

Have You Been Hurt by a Texting Driver?

As much as we seek to prevent it, accidents happen often due to texting drivers. Suddenly, you can sustain a serious injury that dramatically changes your life. Don’t leave your future to chance. Contact a knowledgeable attorney to fight for you. Get your free case evaluation by calling us at 1-866-900-7078.

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About the Author

Cristen Bartus practices personal injury law in North Carolina at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin. She is a member of North Carolina Advocates for Justice, has performed Pro Bono work for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and volunteered with ​Partners for Youth Opportunity. Before joining the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, Cristen worked in regulatory affairs researching proper compliance by insurers. She also reviewed consumer complaints and conducted research for cases under the Consumer Sales Practices Act.