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California has had handheld cell phone laws in place for years, restricting when and how drivers may use cell phones behind the wheel. Several laws ban the use of cell phones in the state when operating a motor vehicle. One law prohibits those under the age of 18 from using all phones, hands-free or handheld, while another prohibits all drivers from using handheld phones for any reason. A third law prohibits texting and other messaging while driving. Now, the governor has approved a fourth law expanding the state’s phone use while driving bans: Assembly Bill (AB) No. 1785.
On September 26, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown approved an act to repeal and add Section 23123.5 of the state’s Vehicle Code. The bill suggests repealing the law that prohibits drivers from using electronic devices to read, send, or write text-based communication and replacing it with a new law. Under AB 1785, California drivers would not be able to “hold or operate” handheld phones or other wireless electronic communication devices.
Under the new bill, drivers may only pick up handheld phones (for any reason) in very limited circumstances, such as to dial for help in an emergency. AB 1785 became effective on January 1, 2017. As of that date, it is against the law to hold a wireless electronic communication device for any reason while driving in the state of California. This includes accessing music or apps behind the wheel. Breaking the law and holding a device while driving can result in a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses. Fees on top of the base fine bring these tickets to around $150 and $250, respectively.
Police officers can conduct traffic stops solely for the purpose of citing a cell phone violation in California. The penalties if you cause an accident while holding a device, however, may be much greater than just a fine. If you breach the regulations of AB 1785 and cause a wreck from distracted driving, California’s fault-based insurance system will hold you legally responsible for the damages. This includes your medical expenses and property damages as well as those of anyone else involved. Assuming liability for a serious car accident could lead to your insurance premiums increasing, as well as traffic citations and other penalties.
AB 1785 expanded the state’s cell phone laws in an effort to prevent dangerous and distracted drivers. The most recent year National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data is available, distracted drivers took at least 3,450 lives in the U.S. Distracted driving is a serious problem plaguing our roads. The new bill will ideally take strides toward preventing cell phone-related driver distractions, making the roadways safer for everyone. It is still legal to use a cell phone while driving, however, as long as you do so within the confines of the new law.
Under AB 1785, drivers may use cell phones as long as they are handsfree. This generally means using them through voice commands or systems manufacturer-installed in your vehicle. Drivers can legally use their cell phones as long as they don’t have to hold them in their hands. Drivers can attach phones to the windshield in the same manner as GPS systems. Drivers may operate a function of the phone from its mount as long as it only takes a single swipe or tap.
Note that cell phones are not the only devices under the umbrella of the handheld device ban. Radios, laptops, two-way messaging devices, pagers, computers, and other personal communication devices also count under the rule. Drivers may only use electronic devices while driving if they are hands-free. Drivers under the age of 18 cannot use any device, handsfree or handheld, unless they must for emergencies.