a man holding a phone to his ear while taking a phone call on his drive

In today’s digital world, everyone is glued to their phones. Whether you are snapping a selfie, texting a friend, or posting pictures to social media, people can’t seem to put down their phones. However, this becomes even more problematic when it comes to operating a vehicle. Using your cell phone while driving can be incredibly dangerous, and in California, it is illegal. There are a few California laws concerning cell phone use while driving that you should know in order to avoid being charged with a crime or getting into a serious car accident. 

Talking on Your Cell Phone 

California Vehicle Code 23123 states that it is illegal to drive a vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless it allows for hands-free listening and talking and you are using it in that way. In simple terms, this means that you cannot talk on the phone unless you are using hands-free listening or bluetooth. This also means that you cannot hold your cell phone up to your ear or mouth while on a phone call.

If you are pulled over in violation of this code, you will be charged a base fine of $20 and $50 for each offense thereafter. It is important to note that the actual total of the fine will be much greater than the base fine after fees and assessments are accounted for.

Exceptions to the Law

There are a few exceptions to this aforementioned driving law that are found in sections (c) through (f) of California Vehicle Code 23123. The exceptions are as follows:

  • If you are using a wireless telephone for emergency purposes, including, but not limited to, an emergency call to a law enforcement agency, health care provider, fire department, or other emergency services agency or entity
  • An emergency services professional using a wireless telephone while operating an authorized emergency vehicle, as defined in Section 165, in the course and scope of his or her duties
  • A person driving a school bus or transit vehicle that is subject to Section 23125
  • A person while driving a motor vehicle on private property

Using Your Cell Phone If You Are Under 18

Although adults over the age of 18 are able to talk on the phone so long as they use a hands-free connection, children under the age of 18 are prohibited from using a wireless cell phone (by any means) while driving, even if it is equipped with a hands-free connection. This law is clearly defined in California Vehicle Code 23124. Although a police officer cannot pull a person under 18 years of age over if he/she is suspicious that they are using a cell phone while driving, a police officer can cite you for this violation if they have pulled you over for another reason. Similar to California Vehicle Code 23123, individuals under 18 are allowed to use a wireless cell phone for emergencies, such as to call the police or fire department.

If you are pulled over in violation of this code, you will be charged a base fine of $20 and $50 for each offense thereafter. Again, the actual total of the fine will be much greater than the base fine after fees and assessments are accounted for.

Texting While Driving

Hopefully, it should come as no surprise that it is also illegal to text while driving. The law for this violation is found under California Vehicle Code 23123.5 (a). There are a few exceptions to this law which permit safe texting while driving. The law does not apply to manufacturer-installed systems or devices that are mounted to your vehicle (in the same way a Global Positioning System (GPS) is), so long as they do not obstruct your view of the road. Drivers are allowed to activate or deactivate features of the wireless device as long as it is with a single swipe or tap. 

The Bottom Line

Generally speaking, it is truly in your best interest to keep away any distractions, be it a phone call or text, while driving. Although there are exceptions to the laws, such as using hands-free or mounting devices, they are still distracting nonetheless. With distractions, comes the increase of car accidents which can be life-altering and sometimes fatal. If you wind up in a car accident as a result of another driver’s careless actions, it is important to speak with an experienced Van Nuys car accident lawyer to learn about your legal rights and your potential recoverable damages. It is important to stay safe while driving, and try to keep texting and calling to a minimum. Drive safely!

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