Handheld cell phone use and texting is banned for all California drivers. All cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) is banned for California bus drivers and for novice drivers.
Cell Phone Use
All California drivers are prohibited from using handheld cell phones while driving. Novice drivers in California - drivers younger than 18 – are prohibited from all cell phone use.
If handheld cell phones are prohibited, then what’s permissible? Here are the common options:
- abstinence (don't use a cell phone while driving)
- speaker phone
- use a bluetooth wireless device
- use a wired headset
- install a car kit
All California drivers are prohibited from texting. California's anti-texting law reads as follows:
Electronic Wireless Communications Device: Prohibited Use
VC 23123.5. (a) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using an electronic wireless communications device to write, send, or read a text-based communication.
(b) As used in this section “write, send, or read a text-based communication” means using an electronic wireless communications device to manually communicate with any person using a text-based communication, including, but not limited to, communications referred to as a text message, instant message, or electronic mail.
(c) For purposes of this section, a person shall not be deemed to be writing, reading, or sending a text-based communication if the person reads, selects, or enters a telephone number or name in an electronic wireless communications device for the purpose of making or receiving a telephone call.
(d) A violation of this section is an infraction punishable by a base fine of twenty dollars ($20) for a first offense and fifty dollars ($50) for each subsequent offense.
(e) This section does not apply to an emergency services professional using an electronic wireless communications device while operating an authorized emergency vehicle, as defined in Section 165, in the course and scope of his or her duties.
All California bus drivers are prohibited from using cell phones and from texting.
Does a Ban on Handheld Cell Phone Reduce Injuries?
In March, 2012, the University of California, Berkeley, released the first study specifically detailing the effect of a handheld cell phone ban on driving. The study analyzed California driving accidents during the first four years in which California’s handheld ban had been in place.
The study found that (1) overall traffic deaths dropped 22%, (2) deaths blamed on drivers using hand-held cellphones were down 47%, and (3) deaths among drivers who use hands-free phones dropped at a similar rate. There was a similar drop in the number of physical injuries. Equally important, the ban had resulted in less use of cell phones during driving.
How is it Enforced?
The new California driving law imposes a fine of $20 for a first-time offense and a $50 fine for each additional offense. The law allows exceptions for calls to law enforcement agencies for emergency purposes, or emergency services personnel while operating an authorized emergency vehicle. In addition to these exceptions, commercial truck drivers, tow truck drivers and operators of farming vehicles are also exempt.
California’s handheld cell phone and texting laws are considered “primary” laws, as is the ban on all cell phones for bus drivers. A primary law means that an officer can pull you over for the offense without having to witness some other violation. The ban on hands-free devices for drivers under 18 is a secondary violation. This means that an officer cannot pull you over just for this infraction, but an officer can cite you for a violation if he or she pulls you over for another reason. However, the prohibition on using a handheld cell phone while driving is still a primary violation. Officers can pull over drivers under age 18 just for this infraction.
Read more about California’s distracted driving laws.