What is the NC Hands Free Law?

Driver is texting while driving.

Distracted driving accidents claimed the lives of more than 1,650 people in North Carolina in a recent year. Over 105,300 others suffered injuries. And according to state transportation officials, those tragic numbers could be even higher. The statistics only reflect self-reported instances of distracted driving. It doesn’t account for all the people who do it but don’t admit it.

Recognizing the problem, lawmakers passed the NC Hands Free Act in 2019. The law banned texting while driving for all drivers and all cell phone use for drivers under 18. But recent efforts to strengthen the law stalled in the legislature. That means a wide range of distracted driving behaviors remain perfectly legal ― and potentially lethal.

Did you or someone you love sustain injuries in a crash caused by an inattentive driver? The North Carolina car accident attorneys at Kreger Brodish LLP can defend your rights and pursue compensation for your losses through a personal injury claim. Call or contact us today for a free consultation.

What is the Current North Carolina Hands-Free Law?

In North Carolina, it is illegal to:

  • Use a mobile phone to enter or read text messages and emails while the vehicle is in motion: Exceptions apply to law enforcement and first responders like firefighters and ambulance drivers (§20-137.4A).
  • Use a mobile device of any kind if you are driving and under age 18: “Devices” include any technology that gives drivers access to digital media such as cameras, music, the Internet, and games. However, it does not prohibit minor drivers from talking to parents, legal guardians, spouses, 911 operators, hospitals, doctor’s offices, law enforcement, firefighters, or ambulance companies while a vehicle is moving (§20-137.3).
  • Using a mobile device if you are a school bus driver: Cell phone use is only allowed in an emergency (§20-137.4)

Put simply, the NC Hands Free law forbids texting for all drivers. But it does not prevent adult drivers from using electronic devices for other dangerous activities, such as posting on social media, recording videos, watching movies, or playing games.

What is NC’s 2021 Hands Free Act?

The NC 2021 Hands Free Act is proposed legislation that would close the loopholes that currently make it legal for drivers to hold their phones, scroll through Facebook, watch Netflix, or engage in other similar activities while driving.

The law would make it illegal for drivers to hold their phones or “support a wireless communication device with any part of [their] body.” For example, it would be illegal to talk on the phone by cradling it between your ear and shoulder.

The proposed law also forbids drivers from watching movies and recording videos while their vehicle is moving. However, it does not prohibit drivers from accessing infotainment systems installed in their cars at the time of purchase or aftermarket accessories installed later.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 24 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have banned handheld cell phone use. Thirty-six states and D.C. prohibit cell phone use for teens and new drivers, and 18 states and D.C. banned all cell phone use for school bus drivers.

texting and driving accident

Why is the 2021 Hands Free Act Stalling in North Carolina?

Despite renewed attempts to pass a stronger law, House lawmakers have found it difficult for the 2021 NC Hands Free Act to get Senate approval. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the passage of all laws unrelated to the relief efforts the state is taking to ease the burden on businesses, schools, and citizens.

The Senate’s decision to kill the bill comes while some groups say now is the time to act. A poll by Meredith College in Raleigh found that 80 percent of the 700 respondents supported a ban. Over 90 percent of those polled agreed that mobile devices contribute to motor vehicle accidents. However, news reports note some NC legislators see the law as an infringement of the public’s rights.

NC Distracted Driving Statistics

Though distracted driving cases may be underreported in North Carolina, examining the data gives us an idea of the scope of the problem.

The numbers from the most recent NCDOT data shows that:

  • 1,523 fatal crashes were due to distracted driving.
  • 69,0021 distracted driving collisions resulted in injuries.

Estimates break down the crash data by type of distraction, too:

  • In 1,186 crashes, drivers were distracted by an electronic device (e.g., cell phone use, texting while driving, etc.)
  • Other electronic equipment like GPS devices and DVD players contributed to 413 distracted driving accidents.
  • Passengers or other activities inside the vehicle were factors in at least 1,140 distracted driving accidents.
  • External distractions contributed to 354 wrecks.

Among teenagers, the DOT figures report that:

  • 10, 845 crashes were due to distracted driving.
  • Of those accidents, 8 teenagers died and 2,426 suffered injuries.

Legal Help for Distracted Driving Accidents

North Carolina law allows accident victims to file a personal injury claim against a distracted driver if another party’s negligence caused the crash. However, the state has some of the harshest negligence laws in the country.

North Carolina’s contributory negligence standard requires victims to show that they bear no responsibility for an accident. No compensation is possible if an insurance company, judge, or jury finds they are even one percent at fault. For this reason, it’s critical to hire a distracted driving lawyer if you or a loved one is hurt.

Distracted driving claims can be difficult to prove. Unless a driver admits to it, a witness saw it, or video surveillance captured it, your case could face challenges.

One of the most compelling forms of evidence in a distracted driving claim is cell phone records. But phone records won’t be released to a private individual like you. However, an attorney can subpoena them from the cell phone provider and send a letter demanding that all texts and call logs are preserved after the accident.

Phone records could be powerful proof when negotiating a settlement, particularly if the at-fault driver was texting while driving. But since state law currently doesn’t prohibit handheld phone use for drivers, it could be more limited if the distracted driver was talking on the phone when the accident happened. No matter the circumstance, a car accident lawyer can develop the best strategy to tackle your case.

Contact a North Carolina Attorney Today

Kreger Brodish LLP is an accomplished North Carolina personal injury law firm. We offer high-quality, comprehensive legal services to injured people in Durham, Raleigh, Greensboro, and the surrounding Triangle and Triad communities.

Our Durham personal injury lawyers handle the toughest car accident cases. You can count on us to push for maximum compensation that accounts for your past, present, and future losses, including medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and more. Call or contact us today for a free case review.