An Overview of California & Cell Phone Laws

There are several important laws regarding cellphone use in California. The most important rules relate to cellphone use while driving. Under California law, drivers are responsible for knowing, understanding and complying with all of the rules and regulations regarding cellphones. While this may sound intimidating, the rules are very straightforward for the most part. Although they feel very familiar in everyday life, it is important to remember that in the eyes of lawmakers, cellphones are still a very new piece of technology. As a result, lawmakers are still crafting laws that apply to how cellphones are used in California. California drivers are responsible for keeping up to date with any changes or additional cellphone laws. Fortunately, new laws are announced long before they take effect and the state will do everything in its power to announce upcoming law changes, so drivers have plenty of opportunities to hear about any new laws before they go into effect.

Handheld Cellphone Ban

Before worrying about any new laws being proposed, it is important that drivers understand the existing rules and regulations regarding cellphones in California. One of the first laws put into place regarding cellphone usage in cars is banning the use of any handheld cellphones while the driver is on the road. It is important to note that this law applies to all drivers in the state, whether or not they live in California.

There are several instances when drivers are exempt from the handheld cellphone ban rule. Drivers are allowed to use a handheld cellphone in their car if they are making an emergency call to a law enforcement agency, a medical provider, fire department and any other emergency service agencies. In addition, any driver operating an emergency vehicle is allowed to use his or her handheld cellphone. Finally, drivers who are operating a vehicle on private property are exempt from this rule, though they are still encouraged by the state of California not to use their devices.

The initial fines for driving with a handheld cellphone are very small. However, after the first offense drivers have to pay a greater fine. Drivers are usually given additional citations if they are caught driving with a handheld cellphone and some drivers may even be charged with reckless driving depending on the situation. Violating the handheld cellphone ban does not result in any points being added onto the driver’s license.

California police officers have primary enforcement authority regarding the handheld cellphone ban. Primary enforcement authority means police officers are allowed to pull drivers over if they see the driver using a handheld cellphone on the road.

Hands-Free Cellphone Laws

California has separate rules regarding the use of hands-free cellphones while on the road. The rules regarding hands-free devices changes depending on the age of the driver. For drivers 18 years of age and older, use of a hands-free device while on the road is allowable. However, if drivers use a Bluetooth device or another type of earpiece, the device is only allowed to cover one of their ears. Under this law, drivers are also able to use speaker phone or any other functions of a wireless device.

Drivers younger than 18 years of age face more restrictive laws. These drivers are unable to use any type of wireless phone, pager, laptop or other electronic communication device for the purposes of speaking or texting. Young drivers are only allowed to use one of these devices is in the case of an emergency. The enforcement for hands-free cellphones is only a secondary violation for drivers younger than 18 years of age. That means California police officers are unable to pull a driver over solely because he or she was using a hands-free device, but if the driver is pulled over for another driving violation, such as speeding, the hands-free violation is also applied to the ticket. The fines are the same as those for the handheld cellphone ban and drivers are required to pay.

Texting While Driving

One of the recent changes to California driving law has to do with texting specifically. There are several different devices that allow a driver to text without actually using his or her hands. However, the state of California believes that any texting, whether by hand or through a device, is too distracting for the driver, so it is not allowed.

As with the other laws, an exception is made if the driver is using his or her device to contact emergency services. In addition, drivers who are using manufacturer-installed systems embedded in the vehicle are exempt from this law. The fines for violating the texting while driving law is the same as the fine for using a handheld cellphone. Texting while driving is considered a primary offense.

GPS Functions

Another one of the recent changes to California cellphone laws has to do with GPS functions and similar devices. These devices are allowed as long as they are handsfree and can be attached to either the dashboard, windshield or console. Drivers are able to use these devices, but only if the device requires a single swipe or tap to activate.