Texting while driving? The ticket costs more than you think.

It's illegal to text and drive in most states, and law enforcement agencies are developing more sophisticated ways to spot offenders. What's more, that ticket may end up costing you hundreds. 

Pat Wellenbach/AP/File
In this 2011 file photo, a phone is held in a car in Brunswick, Maine. The Department of Transportation recently announced pilot programs in Connecticut and Massachusetts "to develop and train police officers on better methods for spotting drivers who are texting.

In most of America, it's illegal to text and drive. Today, 39 states and the District of Columbia now have laws on the books forbidding the practice. Chances are, you live in one of them.

The problem for police officers is that such laws can be difficult to enforce. Even though texting constitutes a primary offense in most instances (meaning that drivers can be pulled over solely for breaking that law), officers have to witness a motorist in the act of texting. That means that in the 29 states where it's okay for drivers to use a handheld cell phone, officers have to observe a driver interacting with a device long enough to ensure that they're not fiddling with music or doing something else that might be considered legal.

The Department of Transportation recently announced pilot programs in Connecticut and Massachusetts "to develop and train police officers on better methods for spotting drivers who are texting, and to develop media techniques that alert the public to the perils of texting and driving". Although Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood admits that "there is still much work to be done" in the area of enforcement, programs like this should soon give officers new tools to catch offenders.

Which is to be expected. Distracted driving is a huge problem in the U.S. and elsewhere, and as smartphones and in-dash navigation screens become ubiquitous, the problem's only going to get worse. In fact, perfectly sensible people text and drive -- including nearly one-third of your commuting colleagues

So, given that texting is a growing problem and enforcement is ramping up, it's likely that you or one of your friends will soon get busted for LOLing and OMWing in traffic. How does that affect your wallet?

First, there's the cost of the ticket, which varies from state to state, depending on the base charge, court fees and other expenses. As an example: Online Auto Insurance (OAI) reports that the base fee in California is $20, but after adding on all the ancillary costs, texters leave the courthouse a staggering $336 poorer.

Then, there's the question of insurance. OAI secured three quotes for a hypothetical driver: a 25-year-old single male, living in New York, driving roughly 10,000 miles each year in his 2008 Honda Civic DX, with one texting ticket on his record.

In one scenario, the violation didn't cause the quote to change at all: the hypothetical driver paid the same with or without the ticket. At the other two insurers, however, rates jumped 9.1% and 10.5%. And although OAI didn't explore the issue, chances are that a second texting ticket would likely have even more dire consequences for the insured.

Of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't point out that OAI makes its money by brokering auto insurance policies for drivers. In other words, it's in OAI's best interests to make drivers aware of discrepancies in insurance rates, since that encourages new business.

That said, we're not surprised by the findings. In fact, we're a bit surprised that the difference in quotes wasn't a bit more dramatic for those with texting tickets on their record. 

Have you gotten a ticket for texting while driving? How much did it set you back? Did it affect your insurance? Drop us a line, or leave a note in the comments below.

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