Kentucky Distracted Driving

(It's more than just not texting.)

Distracted Driving Laws

There are roughly 165,000 car accidents every year in Kentucky. 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?

Kentucky defines distracted driving as “any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increases the risk of crashing.”

There are three types of distractions:

  • Visual: Any action that takes your eyes off the road
  • Manual: Any action that takes your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive: Anything that takes your mind off what you’re doing

Most distractions, though hazardous, are perfectly legal. But because they can put you, your passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians at risk, they should be avoided whenever possible. 

Currently, laws in the state of Kentucky focus primarily on curbing the use of electronic devices for the purpose of sending and receiving text messages, leaving other forms of distraction un-policed.


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Distracted Driving Statistics in Kentucky

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 Kentucky:

  • In 2017, 8,485 car crashes in Kentucky could be attributed to cell phone use and other distractions.
  • Driving while talking on a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by as much as 37%.
  • Talking on a cell phone while driving, even in hands-free mode, slows your reaction time as much as having a blood alcohol level of 0.08%, the legal limit.
  • Kids are four times more distracting than adults as passengers, and infants are eight times more distracting.

Leading Causes of Driver-Error Accidents in Kentucky

Leading Causes of Driver-Error Accidents in Kentucky

Everyone knows that speeding and driving under the influence present a hazard on the roadways, so it may surprise you to see that in Kentucky, distracted driving causes more accidents than each of these factors.

Does Kentucky Have Laws against Distracted Driving?


Currently, Kentucky prohibits the following while driving:

  • Reading, writing, or sending text messages while in motion
  • Currently, Kentucky prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from all cell phone use, whether hands-free or handheld.
  • School bus drivers are prohibited from unofficial use of cell phones while transporting children.

Also, there is currently work underway to ban the use of handheld communication devices and watching videos while driving. If Bill Request 166 is made into law, it will go into effect in 2020.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in Kentucky?


For drivers under the age of 18, the following exceptions apply:

  • Cell phone use is permitted to summon medical help, law enforcement, or a public safety agency in the event of an emergency.
  • The use of a GPS or other navigation system is permitted, as long as the driver does not manually enter information into the system while driving.

For drivers 18 and older, the following exceptions currently apply to the texting while driving ban:

  • The use of a GPS system is permitted.
  • Reading, selecting, or entering a telephone number or name of a person in order to make a phone call is permitted.
  • Texting is permitted for the purpose of reporting illegal activity, summoning medical help, summoning law enforcement, or when communication is necessary in order to prevent injury to a person or property.

Kentucky Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance

            Yes             No
Is texting while driving legal?
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 is written, the law pertains only to texting while the vehicle is in motion. Be aware that this is open to interpretation and you could still potentially be cited for texting at a red light or stop sign.

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

Yes. But that doesn't mean you should.

Distracted driving comes in many forms, from texting and watching videos to less obvious distractions, like searching for your missing sunglasses or munching on French fries. Anything that takes your attention away from the task of driving presents a hazard that's just not worth the potential consequences.

So, what happens if a police officer in Kentucky spots you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There's no law that specifically states that you cannot eat while driving in this state.

However, eating a cheeseburger could cause you to drive erratically or to lose focus and commit a moving violation, like running a stop sign, and you could be pulled over for that. If that happens, you may get cited for careless driving as well as the moving violation you committed.

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

What Is 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.

Kentucky uses primary enforcement.

This means even if you're obeying all traffic laws and believe you're in total control of your vehicle while doing so, if a police officer witnesses you sending a text message while driving, you can be pulled over and given a citation.

What Is the Fine for Distracted Driving in Kentucky?

Currently, the penalty for a distracted driving citation in Kentucky is:

  • For a first violation, a $25 fine plus 3 points on the motorist’s driving record
  • For a second and subsequent violations, a $50 fine plus 3 points on the motorist’s driving record

And drivers under 18 who are cited for a violation of the distracted driving law will need to wait up to 180 days to apply for their regular license.

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

States that have laws against texting and driving

Lawmakers in most states have taken action to outlaw texting while driving, and as time goes on, most of the remaining states are expected to follow suit.

Does Distracted Driving in Kentucky Increase Insurance Rates?


Because a distracted driving citation goes on your driving record, you can expect that your car insurance company will find out about the violation. 

How this affects your rates depends mainly on which insurance company you're using and your overall driving history. On average, car insurance rates in the US rise about $120 year after a distracted driving violation.

And if you have a safe driver discount, you can probably kiss that goodbye. Distracted driving will almost certainly disqualify you from receiving this discount, and this can cause your rate increase to be even more significant.

What If I Drive into Another State?

Distracted driving laws vary from state to state. So if you drive into a neighboring state that has different laws, you need to make sure to follow their laws.Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to review the laws of other states before taking a car trip.

The state of Tennessee doesn't allow handheld cell phones while driving. Does this mean if you're holding your phone to your ear on a call as you cross the state border, you need to end the call immediately? Yes, if you want to stay within the confines of the law and avoid a potential $50 ticket.

What Is Kentucky Doing to Prevent Distracted Driving?

Kentucky’s current laws against distracted driving are a good start, but the state still has a long way to go. If state representatives James Tipton and Steve Sheldon have their way, stronger distracted driving laws will soon be in place in this state. 

Other states have already seen improvements in roadway safety after implementing similar measures.


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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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