Distracted driving in California is a serious issue that is not taken lightly. According to national distracted driving facts, 3,154 individuals were killed by a preoccupied motorist during the 2013 year, and an estimated 424,000 individuals sustained injuries. In 2016, driver distractedness claimed the lives of 3,450 individuals. Moreover, novice motorists are more likely to engage in distracting activities such as reading or writing text messages while operating a motor vehicle.

To prevent driving distractions and potentially fatal accidents, the State of California bans the use of handheld electronic devices in most situations. While the use of all handheld devices is banned throughout the state, certain non-commercial drivers may use hands-free technology if they wish to talk on the phone while driving. However, novice drivers and school bus operators cannot legally use any type of mobile device when operating a motor vehicle (including hands-free devices). To learn more about texting and driving in CA and to discover the penalties of breaking these laws, review the sections below.

What is distracted driving in California?

While most distracted driving laws in California pertain to reading and responding to text messages or holding an electronic device in one hand, many other types of distractions are just as dangerous. For instance, potential distractions pertain to any activity that diverts the attention of the driver away from the road ahead. These distracting activities may include talking, eating, drinking or grooming. Additionally, petting an animal, searching for an item on the floor of a vehicle, watching a movie, or reading a book or newspaper while operating an automobile are other types of distractions. While the CA distracted driving law does not pertain to these types of activities, law enforcement officials may cite motorists for reckless driving if a distraction is deemed potentially dangerous.

Distracted Driving Laws in California for Handheld Devices

There are several laws against distracted driving in CA, including those that pertain to the use of handheld devices. Under the state’s Handheld Wireless Telephone Law of 2008, motorists cannot use any type of handheld wireless device while driving a motor vehicle on public roads. As an exception to this distracted driving law, drivers may use a hands-free device if they are at least 18 years of age or older. In this case, drivers may use a Bluetooth, speakerphone or another type of earpiece to talk on the phone, as long as the earpiece does not cover both ears. Moreover, novice motorists who are younger than 18 years of age cannot use any type of handheld or hands-free electronic device while operating a motor vehicle in the state.

Texting and Driving Laws in California

The act of texting while driving in California is illegal under the Wireless Communications Device Law of 2009. In California, drivers cannot text and drive or read and respond to text messages while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. These laws also pertain to out-of-state motorists. However, as an exception to the laws of 2008 and 2009, motorists may use a handheld device in the event of an emergency. Additionally, emergency vehicle operators are exempt from these rules. Moreover, these laws do not pertain to drivers who operate vehicles within the boundaries of their own private property.

California Laws on Distracted Driving for Novice Drivers

Any type of cell phone use while driving in CA is prohibited amongst novice motorists who are younger than 18 years of age. Under the texting and driving laws, novice motorists cannot engage in any type of electronic or voice communication to text, read or speak while operating a motor vehicle. This law also prohibits the use of hands-free technology or Bluetooth devices. However, as an exception, novice drivers may use a wireless device to contact medical, police or fire authorities in the event of an emergency.

California Distracted Driving Regulations for CDL Holders

The same texting while driving laws in CA pertain to commercial and standard vehicle operators. Under this law, no commercial driver may read or send text messages while operating a commercial vehicle in the state. Additionally, talking on the phone while driving is prohibited unless commercial drivers use a hands-free communication device.

Distracted Driving Penalties in California

The consequences for distracted driving in CA vary depending on whether motorists have committed their first or subsequent offense. For instance, after the first or second offense, motorists must pay a base fine of $20 or $50. In some cases, convictions with penalty assessments may result in the doubling or tripling of these base fines. While texting and driving offenses do not result in the accumulation of violation points, the infraction will still be added to the motorist’s driving record.

If commercial motorists text and drive in California or if they use any type of handheld electronic device while operating a commercial vehicle, then they may lose their driving credentials after committing two or more violations within a three-year period. Generally, commercial vehicle drivers lose their privileges to drive for 60 days after the second offense and 120 days after the third or any subsequent offenses. Additionally, all CDL convictions require the payment of civil penalty fines of up to $2,750, and the accumulation of one driving record violation point.

Ways to Prevent Distracted Driving in California

To stop distracted driving in CA, drivers must remember to keep their eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel. While novice motorists are more likely to drive distractedly than experienced drivers, all vehicle operators must focus their attention on the road ahead and do their best to reduce any potential distractions. To stop distracted driving, motorists may:

  • Turn off their mobile devices before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle.
  • Avoid eating, drinking and grooming while operating a vehicle.
  • Limit their interaction with other passengers.
  • Program their radio or GPS before they leave their parking space.
  • Pull over whenever they need to make a phone call or adjust the settings on their GPS device.
  • Avoid searching for lost or misplaced items in a glovebox or purse whenever a vehicle is in motion.
Last updated on Monday, September 24 2018.

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