Distracted Driving Laws

LFDA Editor

In Brief: 

  • It is illegal to use a hand-held cellphone while driving in New Hampshire.
  • Drivers may use hands-free phones, devices built into vehicles, or two-way radios.
  • Drivers may use devices if pulled off of the road, but not when stopped temporarily.
  • Pro: Strict laws against the use of mobile devices while driving decrease accidents.
  • Con: Distracted driving laws are too difficult to enforce and there is already a negligent driving law on the books.

Issue Facts: 

New Hampshire has statutes banning 'reckless' or 'negligent' driving, regardless of cause. However, starting July 1, 2015, New Hampshire banned hand-held cellphone use while driving, including any texting, typing emails, or programming GPS systems, whether or not the driving engaging in these behaviors is seen to drive recklessly or negligently.  

The law, passed in 2014, includes fines of $100 for the first offense, $250 for a second offense, and $500 for subsequent offenses within 24-months. 

Adult drivers in New Hampshire are allowed to use hands-free phones, devices built into the vehicle and two-way radios. However, the law does ban all cellphone use—hands free or not—by drivers under 18.

There are some exceptions:

  • The law applies while drivers are stopped temporarily (stop signs, red lights, etc), but not if they have pulled over off the road. 
  • Drivers can answer the phone, but not hold it to their ear. 
  • Emergency calls are permitted for all drivers. 

There have been attempts in recent years to add other exceptions, such as programming a GPS, but so far these have failed to pass the Legislature. 

Primary vs. Secondary Offenses

New Hampshire law makes using a hand-held mobile device while driving a primary offense. That means a driver can be pulled over and ticketed for violating the law, even if they haven't committed any other offense. 

Some officials have argued the law should be changed to make it instead a secondary offense. This would mean a New Hampshire driver could only be ticketed for hand-held phone use if they were first pulled over for another violation, such as speeding. 

Other Distractions

In the past, legislators have considered adding other specific behaviors to the state's distracted driving laws, such as holding an animal on your lap while driving. So far, none of these have passed. 

PROS & CONS

"For" Position

"New Hampshire was right to ban hand-held cell phone use while driving."

  • Proponents of strict distracted driving laws believe it will decrease accidents.  According to the New Hampshire Safety Administration, 29 percent of fatal accidents in 2010 were caused by distracted drivers.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board recommended a ban on all cell phone use by drivers in 2011.

"Against" Position

"New Hampshire should not ban hand-held cell phone use while driving."

  • Laws prohibiting the use of hand-held mobile devices are too difficult to enforce. 
  • There is already a general distracted driving law on the books, which could be applied if a driver is seen to be driving dangerously while using a phone. 
 

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Killed in the House

Repeals prohibitions on electronic device usage while driving.

Signed by Governor

Requires the driver's license exam to include questions regarding distracted driving, driving under the influence, and driving during poor weather conditions.

Signed by Governor

Modifies the distracted driving law to allow some use of GPS devices.

Killed in the House

Limits enforcement of the prohibition on the use of mobile electronic devices while driving to a secondary action when another offense is cited or charged.

Killed in the House

Limits enforcement of the prohibition on the use of mobile electronic devices while driving to a secondary action when another offense is cited or charged or when a driver is involved in an accident.

Killed in the House

Only allows law enforcement officers to enforce the prohibition on the use of mobile elctronic devices while driving if a law enforcement officer sees the driver of a motor vehicle with a device against his or her ear or holding a device in his or her hand and operating the device.

Killed in the House

Exempts GPS devices from the prohibition on the use of mobile electronic devices while driving.

Killed in the House

Requires the email and texting capabilities on a phone or tablet be disabled if the device is moving more than 5 miles per hour. Two New England states would need to pass similar laws before HB 103 took effect.

Tabled in the House

Prohibits a driver from holding an animal in his or her lap while driving.

Killed in the House

Limits the prohibition on using a cell phone while driving so the law only applies to drivers under age 18.

Signed by Governor

Forbids cell phone use while driving, unless hands-free.

Killed in the House

Prohibits any cell phone use while driving, unless the phone is hands-free.

Killed in the House

Prohibits any cell phone use by bus and taxi drivers.

Signed by Governor

Prohibits texting while driving.

Was NH right to ban hand-held cell phone use while driving?

FOR
REPRESENTATIVES

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AGAINST
REPRESENTATIVES

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Issue Status

An attempt to repeal the ban on hand-held phone use while driving died in the House in 2017. 

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