May I Use My Cellphone at a Traffic Light in Washington DC?


Using a handheld cell phone while driving is a primary offense in Washington DC, meaning drivers can be pulled over and cited by police if they are caught. Texting while driving decreases attentiveness and increases the likelihood of a car accident. The human brain is able to process only a certain amount of information at a time. This is why drivers are required to focus all of their attention on the road and their surroundings. Anything can happen at any time, so it is important to limit any and all possible distractions, including cell phones, this includes using a cellphone at a traffic light.

What is the Law about Cellphone Use While Driving in DC?

The following restrictions apply to drivers and cellphone use in DC:

  • Licensed drivers are permitted to use their handheld phones only if they are starting/ending a call or calling emergency services or law enforcement. Otherwise, they are permitted to use hands-free features on their phones such as Bluetooth.
  • Drivers with a learner’s permit are prohibited from using their phones in any form while driving.
  • Police officers, firefighters, and other first responders are allowed to use their phones while driving if absolutely necessary while they are on duty.

What are the Legal Repercussions of Cellphone Use While Driving in DC?

The legal repercussions for drivers using their cellphone in DC are as follows:

  • First offense. A fine of $100 unless there is a proof of usage of a hands-free accessory.
  • Second offense. A fine of $150.
  • Subsequent offenses. A fine of $200 and/or up to 90-day license suspension.
  • Charges, fines, or jail time. If someone dies or gets hurt, or there is damage that exceeds $10,000, drivers can be fined up to $1,000. They also have a risk of being charged with reckless driving and having to serve up to 180 days in jail.
  • Miscellaneous fees. Added costs and fees to the initial ticket.
  • Increased insurance premiums. Depending on the driver’s insurance company as well as their history, insurance companies might increase rates by up to $47 yearly.
  • Being cited for using a cellphone while driving will disqualify the motorist from receiving the safe driver discount for insurance, and their deductibles can be greatly affected.

What is the Hangover Effect?

Texting while driving can create a hangover effect for drivers because it can take up to 27 seconds to refocus after using a phone. People assume it is safe to quickly look at their phones if they are at a stop sign or traffic light, but a lot can happen in the time it takes to refocus. As a result of the hangover effect, drivers experience inattentive or perceptual blindness. This occurs when the brain is unable to register people or objects in plain sight because of distraction. Reaction times are slower because of the hangover effect.

How can I Avoid the Hangover Effect?

Drivers can avoid the hangover effect by following some commonsense guidelines:

  • Avoid temptation.
    • Keep the phone turned off while in the vehicle.
    • Place the phone in the armrest, glove compartment, or somewhere out of sight.
    • Turn on Do Not Disturb mode to prevent incoming calls and texts.
  • Make preparations.
    • Input navigation before leaving, rather than waiting for a stop sign or light.
    • Pull over to the side of the road and stop first if a call or text cannot wait.
  • Use passengers.
    • Passengers can enter the navigation and answer calls and texts so that the driver can focus their attention on the road.
  • Be well rested; do not drive while tired or drowsy.

Washington DC Car Accident Lawyers at the Law Offices of Duane O. King Protect the Rights of Accident Victims


If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, reach out to the Washington DC car accident lawyers at the Law Offices of Duane O. King. We care about the welfare of our clients, and we will aggressively fight to ensure they receive the best possible compensation. Call us at 202-331-1963 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Washington, DC, we work with car accident victims in Prince George’s County, including Laurel, Beltsville, Adelphi, College Park, Greenbelt, Mitchellville, Woodmore, Greater Upper Marlboro, Springdale, Largo, Bowie, Capitol Heights, District Heights, Forestville, Suitland, and Seat Pleasant, Clinton, Oxon Hill, Temple Hills, and Fort Washington.