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San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 550-1355

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Driving and Cell Phone Laws in California

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With distracted driving reaching dangerous levels, California has enacted several laws that restrict or prohibit the use of mobile devices when behind the wheel. These laws are a part of a growing nationwide trend to limit cell phone use while driving, particularly among new drivers.

Evidence suggests that drivers using cell phones are more distracted, which greatly increases the risk of an accident.

The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) says drivers are texting and talking at a combined rate of 9% at any given time.

To drive safely and legally, it’s important to understand the cell phone law in California.

The Hands-Free Law

Drivers over the age of 18 are permitted to use hands-free phones while driving. These drivers are free to use Bluetooth and other earpieces, but they may not cover both ears.

Drivers who are over the age of 18 may also use speaker phone to talk while behind the wheel.

When using hands-free and voice-activated operation, the device must be mounted to:

  • The dashboard
  • A 7″ square in the lower corner of the passenger side of the windshield
  • A 5″ square in the lower corner of the driver’s side of the windshield

For drivers under the age of 18, the law is far more restrictive. These drivers may not use a wireless phone, pager, laptop or any other type of electronic communication device to talk or text while driving. This restriction applies to both handheld and hands-free devices.

The only exception to this rule is if drivers are using a wireless device in an emergency situation to call the police or an ambulance.

The penalties for violating the hands-free law are:

  • $20 for the first offense
  • $50 for each subsequent offense

Assessments will increase the costs of the penalties. With assessments included, a first-time offender will likely pay more than $150 in fines.

The restrictions on hands-free devices for minors is a secondary violation, which means an officer cannot pull over a driver simply for this infraction. An officer can cite a driver for this violation if the driver is pulled over for another reason.

The Handheld Phone Ban

California law bans all use of handheld mobile phones while driving, and this law applies to all drivers in the state – even those who do not live there.

Like any other law, there are a few exceptions in which handheld phone use is permitted. These include:

  • Emergency calls to medical providers, police, the local fire department and other emergency service agencies.
  • People operating vehicles on private property.
  • People operating authorized emergency vehicles.

The penalties for violating the handheld phone ban include:

  • $20 for the first offense
  • $50 for each subsequent offense

Assessments will increase the costs of the penalties. With assessments included, a first-time offender will likely pay more than $150 in fines.

The handheld device ban is a primary violation, so an officer can pull you over purely for this infraction.

The Texting While Driving Ban

California has a separate law for texting while driving. Drivers are prohibited from using a wireless phone to write, send or read text messages while behind the wheel.

There are a few exceptions to the rule:

  • Using voice-operated, hands-free mode.
  • Operating a system that’s embedded into the vehicle by the manufacturer.
  • Using a single swipe or tap to turn a GPS system on or off.

Emergency services personnel are exempt from the law while operating an authorized emergency vehicle.

Drivers under the age of 18 may not text while driving, even in hands-free, voice-operated mode. The lone exception is when making an emergency call.

The penalty for texting while driving is the same as those for using handheld phones.

 

 

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