Delaware Distracted Driving

A Guide to Delaware's Distracted Driving Laws

(It's more than just not texting.)

Distracted Driving Laws

There are more than 25,000 car accidents every year in Delaware. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.

What Is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is any action or activity that causes you to take your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, or your attention off the primary task of driving. Distracted driving can be classified into three categories:

  • Manual: anything that causes you to take your hands off the wheel, like eating, smoking, or reaching for an object
  • Visual: anything that causes you to take your eyes off the road, like looking at a GPS, checking your hair in the review mirror,  or looking at kids in the backseat
  • Cognitive: anything that causes you to take your mind off the task of driving, like having a conversation with a passenger, going over your shopping list in your head, or daydreaming

According to the Delaware Department of Motor Vehicles, “While most laws highlight illegal cell phone use while driving, other dangerous driver behaviors may include eating or drinking, applying makeup, or interacting with other passengers while operating a motor vehicle.”

Distracted Driving Statistics in Delaware

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Delaware:

  • Delaware was the 30th state to ban texting while driving and the 8th state to ban the use of handheld cell phones.
  • According to DE state police, about 25% of all car crashes in this state can be blamed, in part, on distracted driving.
  • State officials attributed 6,095 crashes in 2017 to distracted driving.
  • That is nearly double the number of distracted driving crashes in 2013.
  • The Delaware Office of Highway Safety reports that about half of all distracted driving accidents in this state are caused by drivers under 30, and of these, 60% are caused by young men.

Does Delaware Have Laws against Distracted Driving?

Yes.

Delaware laws currently prohibit:

  • All drivers from reading, sending, or receiving text messages while behind the wheel
  • All drivers from using handheld devices while behind the wheel – this includes the use of cell phones, Web browsers, PDAs, paging devices, games, and laptops. Hands-free cell phone use is permitted.
  • Drivers who currently have learner’s permits from using a cell phone of any type, even hands-free
  • School bus drivers from using any type of cell phone, even hands-free, while driving

Delaware compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

Every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona. However, in 2021, newly enacted cell phone restriction laws will go into effect in Arizona.

Yes.

Delaware’s distracted driving laws do not apply to :

  • Law-enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or the operators of authorized emergency vehicles when performing their official duties
  • Drivers who are using a device to report a traffic accident, a serious road hazard, a medical or hazardous materials emergency, or a crime
  • Drivers who are using an electronic communication device to report to appropriate authorities that the operator of another motor vehicle is driving in a reckless, careless, or otherwise unsafe manner or appears to be driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Drivers who are operating an unregistered farm tractor, truck or other equipment

Also, drivers are allowed to touch their cell phone for the purpose of activating or deactivating hands-free equipment.

Delaware Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance


             Yes             No
Is texting while driving legal?
                X               
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                 X *              
Is handheld device use permitted?                               X
Any special restriction for young drivers?                 X                
Is headphone/headset use permitted?                 X               

* As it's written, the law applies to texting while the vehicle is in motion, so this is a bit ambiguous. So texting at red lights should be done with the understanding that you may still be cited.

Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in Delaware?

Yes. But that doesn't mean you should.

Distracted driving comes in many forms. From texting and watching videos to less-obvious distractions like looking for your sunglasses or munching on fries, anything that takes your attention away from the task of driving presents a hazard.

So, what happens if a police officer in Delaware sees you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There's no law that says you can't eat while driving in this state.

But eating a cheeseburger could cause you to drive erratically or lose focus and commit a moving violation, like running a stop sign, and you could be pulled over for that. And if that happens, you may get written up for careless driving AND for the moving violation you committed.

Unless you're really in a hurry, you’re better off eating your Whopper indoors or while sitting in the parking lot.

What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.  

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

Delaware uses primary enforcement.

This means that even if you're obeying all traffic laws and believe you're in total control of your vehicle, if a police officer sees you using your phone while driving, you can be pulled over and given a citation.

What's the Fine for Distracted Driving in Delaware?

In August 2016, the base fine for distracted driving in Delaware was doubled in an effort to further dissuade residents from using their electronic devices while driving. Currently, the fines in this state are:

  • $100 for the first offense
  • $200 to $300 for the second and future offenses

The fine for distracted driving in Delaware compared to surrounding states

The fine for distracted driving in Delaware compared to surrounding states

Fines in Delaware are among the highest in the country when it comes to distracted driving violations, but definitely watch out if you head to New Jersey, where it'll really cost you.

Does a Distracted Driving Citation in Delaware Increase Insurance Rates?

Probably not. 

As the law currently stands, a distracted driving citation in Delaware doesn't add points to your driver’s license and doesn't land on your driving record. Because of this, it's likely your insurance company won't even know about the infraction.

But distracted driving greatly increases your risk of getting into an accident or committing a moving violation, and these actions will affect your driving record and insurance rates. So why take the chance?

What If I Drive into a State with Different Laws?

Distracted driving laws vary by state, so when you cross that state line you're required to follow their laws. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to check on the current laws for any states you may be traveling through before you take your next road trip.

Pennsylvania doesn't ban handheld cell phone use, and three states still permit adult drivers to text while driving. Does this mean if you're in a state that permits handheld cell phone use or texting while driving you can do that legally? Yes, you can. 

But just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is wise. If your car is already set up for hands-free phone calls, and you're already used to avoiding texting until you reach your destination, why would you want to take the risk of having an accident?

What's Delaware Doing To Prevent Distracted Driving?

Delaware has some of the toughest distracted driving laws in the country, but the rate of accidents caused by this hazard is still high. That's why the state has taken initiatives like doubling the fines for this infraction and cracking down on enforcement of the laws.

Also, Delaware has initiated the "Don’t Be the You You Hate" campaign, which is aimed toward providing motorists, particularly young drivers, with information about the dangers presented by distracted driving.

So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.

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https://delcode.delaware.gov/title21/c041/sc09/index.shtml

https://ohs.delaware.gov/distracted.shtml

https://www.dmv.com/de/delaware/distracted-driving-laws

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