NH Law About... Hands-Free Law

Introduction to... Hands-Free Law

Updated February 23, 2017. 

New Hampshire’s hands-free law, RSA 265:79-c, was passed in 2014 and went into effect July 1, 2015. The law prohibits a driver of a motor vehicle from using any hand-held electronic device while driving or while halted in traffic for a momentary delay. There are exceptions for anyone making a 911 call, using a 2-way radio, or using a Bluetooth-enabled or other hands-free device. Anyone violating the general rule will be guilty of a criminal violation and be charged a fine. Everyone under 18 is prohibited from using any mobile device when driving, whether hands-free or not, except to report an emergency.

Another law relating to this topic, RSA 265:105-a, prohibits a driver of a motor vehicle from writing a text message while driving. The law does allow a driver to read, select or enter a phone number or name into an electronic device to make a phone call. It does not specify that the device should be hands-free. 

It isn't clear how these two statutes will coexist, given their apparent conflict. The 2009 statute allows some behavior with hand-held electronic devices which the 2014 hands-free statute prohibits. Conflict between statutes is common and a result of the piecemeal process of making law. It is to the legislature’s credit that this sort of conflict does not happen more often than it does. Eventually, either the legislature will have to address this conflict, probably by changing or repealing the 2009 statute or the courts will have to clarify the statutes when someone brings a case up under either of them. 

In the “Statute” section below in this Guide, there are several additional statutes listed which could also apply to a driver using hand-held electronic devices while driving. That kind of behavior could be brought as a civil offense under either reckless driving, vehicular assault, or negligent driving, under RSA 265:79, 79-a or 79-b, respectively, or, if severe enough, could become a criminal offense as defined in RSA 626:2.

Please remember that this guide is for information purposes only and is not comprehensive. It is intended as a starting point for research, to illustrate the various sources of the law, and to provide guidance in their use. NH Law About ... is not a substitute for the services of an attorney 


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NEW HAMPSHIRE STATUTES

RSA 263:14, III. Drivers' Licenses; [Revocation or Suspension of] Original and Youth Operators' License  GO>

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RSA 265:79. Reckless Driving; Minimum Penalty  GO>

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RSA 265:79-a. Vehicular Assault  GO>

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RSA 265:79-b. Negligent Driving  GO>

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RSA 265:79-c. Use of Mobile Electronic Devices while Driving; Prohibition  GO>

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RSA 265:105-a. Prohibited Text Messages and Device Usage While Operating a Motor Vehicle  GO>

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RSA 626:2, II(c). General Requirements of Culpability  GO>

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Find it in a Library ... New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated

Link verified on: March 24, 2017

Find the New Hampshire statutes in print at libraries throughout the state.   GO>

Find it in a Library ... New Hampshire selected motor vehicle, boating and related laws annotated  GO>

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Learn About New Hampshire Statutes: New Hampshire statutes are the laws of the State of New Hampshire as enacted by the New Hampshire General Court. GO>
 

NEW HAMPSHIRE CASES

164 N.H. 544 (2013). State v. Dion

Link verified on: February 23, 2017

Citing RSA 265:105–a (Supp.2012), which prohibits “text messaging” while driving, the defendant asserts that talking on a cell phone while driving is not prohibited and, therefore, cannot constitute the requisite blameworthy conduct. Contrary to the defendant's argument, however, conduct that is, itself, not prohibited, including use of a cell phone while driving, may constitute the requisite blameworthy conduct when such use results in inattention or distraction. Indeed, “the state had no burden to show that driving while using a cell phone is always risky or dangerous, or that it, of itself, creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk, only that [the defendant's] use of a cell phone in this case created a substantial and unjustifiable risk because it interfered with her ability to maintain a proper lookout for [pedestrians].” The issue here is not whether cell phone use while driving is per se blameworthy. Rather, the issue is whether inattention caused by cell phone use or any other “legal” activity, resulting in the failure to avoid a pedestrian in a crosswalk, demonstrates a level of carelessness the seriousness of which should be “apparent to anyone who shares the community's general sense of right and wrong.”   GO>

166 N.H. 58 (2014). State v. Belleville

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[T]he difference between recklessness and negligence is that a person is reckless if he is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial risk that a material element of the crime exists or will result from his conduct, whereas one is negligent when he fails to become aware of a substantial risk that an essential element of the crime exists or will result from his conduct.   GO>

Learn About New Hampshire Cases: New Hampshire case law consists of the published opinions of the New Hampshire Supreme Court. GO>
 

FOR MORE HELP ...

Adam M. Gershowitz, Google Glass While Driving, 47 Ariz. St. L.J. 755 (2015)

Link verified on: February 23, 2017

Is it legal to use Google Glass while driving? Most states ban texting while driving and a large number also forbid drivers from being able to see television and video screens. But do these statutes apply to Google Glass?   GO>

Governors Highway Safety Association. Distracted Driving Laws

Link verified on: February 23, 2017

This chart outlines state distracted driving laws. Some localities have additional regulations.   GO>

United States. Dept. of Transportation. Distraction.gov

Link verified on: February 23, 2017

The U.S. Department of Transportation is leading the effort to stop texting and cell phone use behind the wheel. Since 2009, we have held two national distracted driving summits, banned texting and cell phone use for commercial drivers, encouraged states to adopt tough laws, and launched several campaigns to raise public awareness about the issue.   GO>

New Hampshire Law Library

Link verified on: March 24, 2017

The state's only public law library. Call, email, or visit, we'll be happy to help.   GO>


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