California drivers and the new cell phone law

Monday, June 16, 2008


The California Highway Patrol (CHP) alerts California drivers to new laws on using a cell phone while driving. All drivers are prohibited from using a handheld wireless phone while driving, although adults may use hands-free phone devices while at the wheel. However, drivers under 18 can't use handheld cell phones or hands-free cell phones. Both laws go into effect July 1, 2008.

The law allows a driver to use a wireless telephone to make emergency calls to a law enforcement agency, a medical provider, the fire department, or other emergency services agency. Passengers are free to make cell phone calls.

The base fine for the first offense is $20 and $50 for subsequent convictions. With the addition of penalties, a first offense is $76 and a second offense is $190. The violation is a reportable offense on your driving record, however the Department of Motor Vehicles will not assign a violation point on your driver's license.

There is no exception for phones with a “push-to-talk” feature. However, a push-to-talk feature attached to a hands-free ear piece or other hands-free device is acceptable.

Motorists 18 and over

  • The new law does not prohibit dialing, but drivers are strongly urged not to dial while driving.
  • You can use a Blue Tooth or other earpiece in one ear.
  • You can use the speaker phone function of your wireless telephone while driving.
  • The law does not address "texting," however an officer can pull over and issue a citation to a driver of any age if, in the officer’s opinion, the driver was distracted and not operating the vehicle safely. The CHP considers text paging while driving unsafe at any speed and strongly discourages drivers from texting at the wheel.

Drivers under 18

  • Drivers under the age of 18—even emancipated minors—may not use a wireless telephone, pager, laptop or any other electronic communication or mobile services device to speak or text while driving in any manner, even hands-free.
  • Parents can't give minor drivers permission to use wireless phones while driving. The only exception to the prohibition on driving and using a cell phone for minors is when making an emergency communication to a law enforcement agency, a medical provider, the fire department, or other emergency services agency.
  • Law enforcement officers can't pull over young people solely for using a hands-free device while driving. This is considered a "secondary" violation, meaning that a law enforcement officer may only cite you for using a hands-free wireless phone if you were pulled over for another violation. However, the prohibition against using a handheld wireless telephone while driving is a "primary" violation for which a law enforcement officer can pull you over.




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