Two laws dealing with the use of wireless telephones while driving went into effect July 1, 2008. You should know them by now, right? Maybe not. Well, if you’ve gotten stiffed with a fine in the last year or know someone who has, save some future hassle (and cash) by familiarizing yourself with the laws concerning cell phone use and driving.
Below is a list of Frequently Asked Questions concerning these laws released by the the California Highway Patrol. You may also download a PDF of the rules here: Wireless Telephone Laws FAQs – California Highway Patrol
GENERAL QUESTIONS [Skip to section]
- Will I receive a point on my driver’s license if I’m convicted for a violation of the wireless telephone law?
DRIVERS 18 AND OVER [Skip to section]
- Does the new “hands-free” law prohibit you from dialing a wireless telephone while driving or just talking on it?
- Does the new hands-free law allow you to use the speaker phone function of your wireless telephone while driving?
DRIVERS UNDER 18 [Skip to section]
- If I have my parent(s) or someone age 25 years or older in the car with me, may I use my wireless telephone while driving?
Q: What is the difference between the two laws?
A: The first law prohibits all drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle. (Vehicle Code (VC) §23123). Motorists 18 and over may use a hands-free device. The second law prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a wireless telephone or a hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle (VC §23124).
Q: What if I need to use my telephone during an emergency and I do not have a hands-free device?
A: 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.
Q: What are the fines if I’m convicted?
A: The base fine for the FIRST offense is $20 and $50 for subsequent convictions. However, with the addition of penalty assessments, the total amount can be more than triple the base fine.
Q: Will I receive a point on my driver’s license if I’m convicted for a violation of the wireless telephone law?
A: NO. The violation is a reportable offense: however, DMV will not assign a violation point.
Q: Is there a grace period when motorists will only get a warning?
A: NO. The law went into effect July 1, 2008. Whether a citation is issued is always at the discretion of the officer based upon his or her determination of the most appropriate remedy for the situation.
Q: What if my phone has a push-to-talk feature, can I use that?
A: No. The law does provide an exception for those operating a commercial motor truck or truck tractor (excluding pickups), implements of husbandry, farm vehicle or tow truck, to use a two-way radio operated by 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.
Drivers 18 and over will be allowed to use a hands-free device to talk on their wireless telephone while driving. The following FAQs apply to those motorists 18 and over.
Q: Does the new “hands-free” law prohibit you from dialing a wireless telephone while driving or just talking on it?
A: The new law does not prohibit dialing, but drivers are strongly urged not to dial while driving.
Q: Does the new “hands-free” law allow drivers 18 and over to text page while driving?
A: No. As of January 1, 2009, a new law (California Vehicle Code 23123.5) went into effect prohibiting all motorists from reading, composing or sending a text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle.
Q: Am I allowed to use my wireless telephone hands-free?
A: NO. Drivers under the age of 18 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. EXCEPTION: Permitted in emergency situations to call police, fire or medical authorities. (VC §23124).
Q: Why is the law stricter for provisional drivers?
A: Statistics show that teen drivers are more likely than older drivers to be involved in crashes because they lack driving experience and tend to take greater risks. Teen drivers are vulnerable to driving distractions such as talking with passengers, eating or drinking, and talking or texting on wireless phones, which increase the chance of getting involved in serious vehicle crashes.
Q: Can my parents give me permission to allow me to use my wireless telephone while driving?
A: NO. The only exception is an emergency situation that requires you to call a law enforcement agency, a health care provider, the fire department or other emergency agency entity.
Q: If I have my parent(s) or someone age 25 years or older in the car with me, may I use my wireless telephone while driving?
A: NO. You may only use your wireless telephone in an emergency situation.
Q: May I use the hands-free feature while driving if my car has the feature built in?
A: NO. The law prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from using any type of wireless device while driving, except in an emergency situation.
Q: Can a law enforcement officer stop me for using my hands-free device while driving?
A: No. For drivers under the age of 18, this is considered a SECONDARY violation meaning that a law enforcement officer may 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.