Can You Use Your Phone at a Red Light? (Explained)

Cell phone use is one of the top causes of car accidents in the USA, amounting to 1.6 million crashes every year. It has been such a prevalent issue that governing bodies banned using phones while driving nationwide. But what happens when you’re at a halt? Can you use your phone at a red light?

Regardless if you’re at a red light or stuck in traffic, using your phone is not ideal. After all, it leads to distracted driving and puts you in hot water with the law.

Here’s an in-depth guide to phone use, red lights, and why it is illegal.

What Does it Mean When A Traffic Light is Red? (An In-depth Explanation)

We all know that different-colored traffic lights have their unique meanings. But today, we’re here to focus on red lights. There are two types you should know of: 

Solid Red Light

Generally, if you’re seeing red, and that only, you need to stop. Do not move your vehicle until the traffic light turns green again, although there are some exceptions. Some states allow cars to turn right at a solid red light. 

However, do so with caution as some intersections don’t allow this, so look for the traffic signs. If you don’t see any signs holding you back, yield to cross traffic and pedestrians before turning. You may also turn left on red, but this is quite rare. 

Flashing Red Light 

Flashing red lights are like solid ones. When encountering one, come to a complete stop, but double-check the intersection. And like solid red lights, only proceed to drive off when the light turns green, and the coast is clear. But be mindful of flashing red lights as the cross-traffic might not have the same one. 

Intersections show flashing red lights in one way while flashing yellow in the other. 

But since they generally mean to stop, why can’t you use your phone at a red light? Read on to see why and alternatives you can do while in traffic.

Can You Use Your Phone at a Red Light?

timelapes photography of car lights on road during night time - can you use your phone at a red light
Photo courtesy of 云 陌

Many people think it’s all right to use a mobile phone while on the road if they’re at a halt. But remember, driving is a task that requires all the driver’s attention, even when at a complete stop. 

A distracted driver on the phone at a red light may not see when vehicles around them begin to move. Or worse, the driver might mistake the car’s movement in front that traffic is flowing again. And eventually, these will lead to collisions—big and small. 

Most drivers think they can switch between driving and using their phones fast when at a red light. But based on various research studies, this is far from the truth. One case showed that using a phone when driving hinders the mind from extracting itself from one object to another. When you go back to driving after using the phone, your focus won’t be there 100%. 

Aside from that, most drivers who use a phone at a red light have a higher chance of using it again while driving. So, in a way, using your phone at a red light can act as a gateway to risky driving habits.

So, to answer the burning question of “can you use your phone at a red light,” no. Not only is it dangerous, but it is also illegal. In short, nothing good comes from texting, talking, or posting a selfie when behind the wheel! 

Remember, whether you’re at a halt or are moving, it’s never okay to use your phone when on the road! So, please don’t use your smartphone unless it’s for an emergency or parked in a safe area with your engine turned off.

Is it Dangerous to Use a Smartphone While on the Road?

person holding white iphone 5 c in the car
Photo Courtesy of Damir Kopezhanov

It’s no secret that using a phone while behind the wheel can be dangerous. Studies have shown a correlation between phone use and higher rates of collisions, injuries, and deaths. 

But even if it’s one of the top causes of car accidents globally, people don’t take it seriously. Due to using the phone while driving, approximately 1.6 million car crashes and over 3,000 deaths happen annually in the US alone.

But due to the public’s growing awareness of the dangers of using phones while driving, all states except Montana have enacted laws limiting phone use when on the road.

If you’re still unconvinced about the dangers of using a phone when driving or at a halt, here are more reasons why it isn’t safe as you think:

  • When driving, drivers who use phones have a higher chance of not seeing and striking pedestrians or cyclists while crossing intersections.
  • Phone use while driving makes the driver unable to react to unusual actions of others on the road.
  • Drivers preoccupied with their phones typically use peripheral vision to watch traffic movement. As a result, many forget to check the traffic light itself, causing rear-end collisions.
  • Auditory mishaps from a phone can deter a driver’s hearing, preventing them from hearing the sounds of other vehicles on the road. 

But what about using phones when the car is at a halt at a red light? As I mentioned earlier, using phones at a red light is a big no-no. After all, it puts the driver at risk of collision and in hot water with the law. Also, statistics show that stopped vehicle accidents in the US have increased by over 25% since 2014, killing hundreds every year. 

Can You Use Your Phone at a Red Light? Three Types of Distracted Driving

can you use your phone at a red light  - three types of distracted driving (infographic)

Distracted driving is when you become preoccupied with other things other than driving. When on the road or at a red light, using the phone often leads to distracted driving. And it’s one of the top causes of traffic accidents globally. 

You can break down distracted driving into three different types, such as: 

  • Manual – This refers to anything that forces you to take your hands off your car’s steering wheel. For instance, holding and drinking a cup of coffee counts as a manual distraction. 
  • Visual – These are instances that let you take your eyes off the road. For example, grabbing your phone at a red light to check a text message counts as a visual distraction. 
  • Cognitive – Whenever your mind gets preoccupied with a thought other than driving, it counts as a cognitive distraction. 

But what makes distracted driving dangerous is that using the phone lets you experience all three. So, whether it’s texting and driving, making calls, or taking pictures, nothing’s safe. And though you can opt for hands-free gadgets, it’s not the best choice when on the road. 

After all, these devices still contribute to distracted driving, hindering your hearing and slowing down your reaction time. So, the best solution is to always focus on the task at hand: driving. Remember, keep your hands on the steering wheel, eyes up front, and mind-focused!

What is the Penalty for Using the Phone While Driving?

It also pays to be aware of the penalties you may get when using a phone while driving. But, there might also be other consequences for using phones when operating a vehicle. It depends on each state, but here’s a general idea about fines for using a phone while driving:

  • First offense: $80 to $100. 
  • Second offense: $140 to $150. 
  • Third offense: $160 to $200.
  • During a collision, points will be added to your driver’s license. 
  • Writing, reading, or sending a text message via phone when driving, you need to pay an extra $70. Aside from that, one point will be added to your driver’s license. 
  • Collisions caused by texting while driving add three points to your driver’s license. Moreover, you need to pay an extra $110.
  • Accidents that severely injured or killed another person due to texting while driving warrant a three-year jail sentence. Aside from that, you need to pay an additional $5,000. 

It’s crucial to note that texting behind the wheel while driving is a primary offense. So, if a police officer spots you using your phone when driving, they can pull you over and fine you for that alone.

Bored In Traffic? Here’s What You Can Do That’s Legal!

Getting stuck in traffic or at a red light at a busy intersection is bound to happen to you again—and again. Whether due to the weather, an accident, construction, or traffic, the wait can be tedious. But since we can’t use our phones while on the road, what can we do to kill some time off? 

Here are some things to try while at a red light or stuck in traffic that are 100% legal:

  • Tell a joke, and have a hearty laugh. Nothing beats killing time with jokes, especially when stuck in heavy traffic or at a red light. Whether you tell a dad joke, make faces, or any other thing you find funny, laughing is a foolproof way to pass the time on the road.
  • Play a game. Spot the plates around you, and have fun making up definitions for the abbreviations. It’s a simple and fun game to pass the time!
  • Sing your heart out. Even if you don’t like singing, belting out tunes is a fun way to kill time when on the road. You can even invite the car next over to jam out!
  • Turn on your favorite podcast. Tuning into a podcast is always fun, especially when stuck in traffic!
  • Do some general cleaning around your car seat. Pick up any trash or food scraps you’ve hidden away in your car seats to pass the time. 
  • Question time. If you’re traveling with a companion, have some fun and become champions of 20 questions! You two have 20 opportunities to guess the item, person, or destination the other is thinking of. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can you use your phone at a red light in the US?

A: There isn’t a legal justification for using a smartphone while at a red light besides making emergency calls. So, unless you’ve gotten into an accident, it’s not advisable to use your phone at a red light in the US. Although the mortality rate of car accidents in the US differs across all states, authorities strictly prohibit phone use on the road nationwide. 

Q: Can you text with your phone while at a red light?

A: Whether it’s reading, writing, or sending text messages, the wireless communications device law strictly prohibits phone use while behind the wheel. And yes, this includes texting while at a red light. So, unless you’re a passenger, you can’t text with your phone even at a red light.

Q: Is it illegal to use your phone while stopped in traffic?

A: Although many think it’s all right to use a smartphone when stuck in traffic or at a red light, it’s not true. Using a smartphone when behind the wheel is illegal in many countries. And this may put you in hot water with the law when not followed.

Q: Can police stop you from using your phone at a red light?

A: Police officers can stop you if they suspect you of driving while using a phone, but rarely for using it at a red light. It depends on the situation. Some officers may change their allegation to the driver “not being in proper control.” And this can give you heavier fines and penalties. So, refrain from using your phone when behind the wheel! 

Q: Do police officers need to prove you were on your phone while driving?

A: The police must prove that you used your phone while driving. For instance, the officer needs to give evidence backing statements like “I’ve seen them driving while holding a phone up to their ear.” If not, you’ll have the chance to challenge the case in court. 

Final Words

Can you use your phone at a red light? Using your smartphone at a red light isn’t only dangerous—it’s also illegal. So no matter how bored you get, refrain from touching your phone while on the road. After all, you wouldn’t want to get in trouble with the law or, worse, get into an accident! So, stay safe, turn off your phone, and drive responsibly—no matter how annoying traffic gets.

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