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Verify: Can you use your cellphone at a traffic light in Maryland, Virginia and DC?

Texting or browsing social media while operating a car, is illegal across the DMV: the same rules apply at traffic lights, and whenever your car is in drive.


Can you use your cellphone  at a traffic light in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.?


Texting while driving (or at a traffic light) is BANNED in ALL regions across the DMV

In Virginia, anyone over the age of 18 may use a hand-held phone to make a phone call.

In D.C. and Maryland, you must use hands free Bluetooth devices. 


Maryland Law

Virginia Law

D.C. Law

Maryland State Police- Sgt. DaVaughn Parker- spokesperson ; Brenda Carl- Public Affairs Officer

Maryland Dept. of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration- Safety Programs

Virginia State Police- Corrine Geller- Public Relations Director

Governor's Highway Safety Association- Madison Forker, spokesperson


Distracting driving kills an average of nine people in the U.S. every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 1,000 people are injured daily in these crashes. 

Cellphones are a distraction drivers face every time they get behind the wheel. 

A Maryland viewer says she notices that people are constantly whipping out their phones when the light turns red, trying to squeeze in a couple seconds of screen time.

She asked us to Verify: Is it legal to use your cellphone at a traffic light?

To get our answer, our Verify researchers pulled up the current Maryland law passed in 2013. 

It reads: " A driver of a motor vehicle that is in motion may not use the driver's hands to use a handheld telephone other than to initiate or terminate a wireless telephone call or to turn on or turn off the handheld telephone."

The way it's worded is confusing: is a car stopped at a red light considered "in motion" or not?

We cross-checked with Maryland State Police. 

"If you're stopped at a traffic light and your vehicle is in drive, you can be cited," Sgt. DaVaughn Parker said. 

Meaning, yes, you're technically still operating the car, even with your foot on the pedal.

If you get caught, you can be fined $83 for a first time offense, second-time offenders can receive a maximum fine of $140 and third-time offenders a maximum of $160.

However, the code does mentions a few exceptions, where it is permissible to take out your phone such as: turning it on or off, or calling emergency personnel.

Drivers in Maryland are permitted make calls hands free, unless you're under 18, and even then Bluetooth calls are banned.

So we can Verify, it is illegal to text or pick up your phone to make a call at a traffic light in Maryland. It's also a primary offense, meaning police officers can pull you over just for that.

In D.C., the same rules apply. Additionally, anyone with a learners permit is prohibited from using hands free devices, unless placing an emergency call.

In Virginia, it's illegal to text while driving, but you are allowed to make calls without Bluetooth if you're over 18.

Lawmakers tried banning hand-held phones in the 2018-2019 session, but they weren’t able to pass the bill before the session ended.  

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