Distracted driving from cell phone use is leading to a surge in car accidents across the country. Many states have responded by passing laws that ban various types of cell phone operation behind the wheel. These restrictions–and their penalties–vary greatly from state to state.

In today’s post, we examine North Carolina’s distracted driving laws–and their implications for long-term repercussions.

Talking on the phone

Approximately one-third of the states in the U.S. have completely outlawed the use of hand-held devices while driving. In North Carolina, however, it is still legal to talk on the phone while driving–as long as you’re at least 18 years old and not a commercial driver.

If you’re under 18 and are caught driving while using a hand-held device, you can get fined $25. The penalty for the same infraction is much steeper for commercial drivers–and could cost them their license.

Texting

Texting while driving is prohibited for all drivers in North Carolina. If caught in violation of this law, you will have to pay a $100 fine. In addition, if your distraction from texting causes you to crash and inflict harm on others or their property, you could face severe penalties–such as reckless driving or vehicular homicide charges.

Losing compensation for damages

In addition, if someone else crashes into you due to their own carelessness–but you were also texting at the time–your legal recourse can be greatly limited. North Carolina is one of the few states that follows contributory negligence law–which means that if two parties are at fault in an accident, no one can recover damages.

Let’s say you’re driving through an intersection at a green light while simultaneously texting a friend. At that moment, a drunk driver in the cross-street speeds through the red light and bulldozes into your car. Your car is totaled, and you end up in the hospital–with thousands of dollars in medical expenses. Because you were texting at the time of the accident, a court may decide that you were a small percent at fault–and therefore you can claim nothing in damages.

Texting while driving may seem like a minor infraction, but the consequences of such a violation can far exceed a simple fee. It’s important to always stay alert and attentive whenever you’re behind the wheel.