Washington D.C.’s Cellphone-Use & Texting-While-Driving Laws

Read about the District of Columbia’s distracted driving laws and the costs of a violation.

Washington D.C.’s distracted driving laws contain cellphone and text-messaging restrictions that apply to all drivers. This article gives an overview of specifically what the laws prohibit and the penalties you’ll face for a texting or cellphone ticket in the District of Columbia.

Texting and Cellphone Restrictions for All Drivers

In Washington D.C., it’s illegal for all motorists to use a cellphone or other electronic device that’s not equipped with a hands-free accessory while operating a moving vehicle.

Cellphone and electronic device use. For purposes of the distracted driving laws, “use” means:

  • talking on the phone or placing or receiving a call, or
  • using a device to compose, send, receive, or read a written message or image using a text-based communication system.

Hands-free accessories. A “hands-free accessory” doesn’t necessarily need to be an accessory that’s apart from the phone itself. Using any technology—weather an add-on or a built-in feature—that allows the driver to keep both hands on the wheel is permissible.

Exceptions. The distracted driving laws don’t apply to:

  • emergency use of a cellphone, including calls to 9-1-1, 3-1-1, a hospital, an ambulance service provider, or law enforcement
  • use of a cellphone by law enforcement or other emergency service providers in the performance of official duties, or
  • initiating or terminating a call or turning on or off a cellphone.

Restrictions for School Bus Drivers and Drivers With Learner’s Permits

School bus drivers and drivers with learner’s permits are entirely banned from texting and cellphone use while operating a vehicle that’s in motion—regardless of whether they use hands-free accessories. The only exception for these drivers is using a cellphone to make an emergency call.

Penalties for Violations

Washington D.C.’s distracted driving penalties are as follows:

  • First offense. For a first violation within an 18-month period, the driver is looking at a $100 fine. However, first offenders can avoid having to pay the fine by providing proof of acquiring a hands-free accessory.
  • Second offense. A second distracted driving violation within 18 months carries a $150 fine.
  • Third offense. Anyone convicted of a third distracted driving violation within an 18-month period faces a $200 fine and a license suspension of 30 to 90 days.
  • Violations involving deaths, injuries, or property damage. When a texting or cellphone violation leads to substantial bodily harm or death of another or property damages of at least $10,000, enhanced penalties apply. These violations carry up to $1,000 in fines and/or a maximum 180 days in jail.

Other Possible Charges

Depending on the circumstances, a texting or cellphone violation could also lead to a reckless driving conviction. And if one of these violations results in the death of another person, negligent homicide charges are a possibility.

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