FAQ’s California Texting and Hands-Free Law

The Wireless Communications Device Law (eff 1/1/09) makes it an infraction to write, send, or read text-based communication on an electronic wireless communications device, such as a cell phone, while driving a motor vehicle.

Two additional laws dealing with the use of wireless telephones while driving went into effect July 1, 2008. The first law prohibits all drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle, (California Vehicle Code [VC] §23123). Motorists 18 and over may use a “hands-free device. The second law effective July 1, 2008, prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a wireless telephone or hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle (VC §23124).

Below is a list of Frequently Asked Questions concerning these laws.
Q: What is the difference between these laws?
A: The first law prohibits all drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle, (California Vehicle Code [VC] §23123). Motorists 18 and over may use a “hands-free device.” The second law prohibits all drivers from texting while operating a motor vehicle (VC §23123.5). The third law prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a wireless telephone or 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 is the fine if I’m convicted?
A: The base fine for the FIRST offense is $20 and $50 for subsequent convictions. With penalty assessments, the fine can be more than triple the base fine amount.
Q: Will I receive a point on my driver license if I’m convicted for a violation of the wireless telephone or wireless communication device law?
A: No. The violation is a reportable offense; however, a violation point will not be assigned to your DMV record.
Q: Will the conviction appear on my driving record?
A: Yes, but the violation point will not be added.
Q: Is there a grace period, or will motorists get a warning?
A: No. The laws became effective July 1, 2008, and January 1, 2009. Whether a citation is issued is always at the discretion of the officer based upon his or her determination of the most appropriate action for the situation.
Q: Are passengers affected by these laws?
A: No. These laws only apply to the person driving a motor vehicle.
Q: Do these laws apply to out-of-state drivers whose home states do not have such laws?
A: Yes.
Q: Can I be pulled over by a law enforcement officer for using my handheld wireless telephone?
A: Yes. A law enforcement officer can pull you over just for this infraction.
Q: Can I be pulled over by a law enforcement officer for using my wireless communication device?
A: Yes. A law enforcement officer can pull you over just for this infraction.
Q: What if my phone has a push-to-talk feature, can I use that?
A: No. However, 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. A push-to-talk feature attached to a hands-free ear piece or other hands-free device is acceptable.
Q: What other exceptions are there?
A: Operators of an authorized emergency vehicle during the course of employment are exempt, as are those motorists operating a vehicle on private property.
Q: Are there exceptions for dialing?
A: This law does not prohibit reading, selecting or entering a phone number, or name in an electronic wireless device for the purpose of making or receiving a phone call. Drivers are strongly urged not to enter a phone number while driving.


DRIVERS 18 AND OVER

Drivers 18 and over are 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 “hands-free” law prohibit you from dialing a wireless telephone while driving or just talking on it?
A: The law does not prohibit dialing, but drivers are strongly urged not to dial while driving.
Q: Is it legal to use a Bluetooth or other earpiece?
A: Yes, however you cannot have BOTH ears covered.
Q: Does the “hands-free” law allow you to use the speaker phone function of your wireless telephone while driving?
A: Yes, as long as you are not holding the phone.
Q: Does the “hands-free” law allow drivers 18 and over to text message while driving?
A: No; sending, receiving, or reading text while operating a motor vehicle is prohibited as of January 1, 2009 (VC §23123.5).


DRIVERS UNDER 18

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 devices, 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 entity.
Q: Does the law apply to me if I’m an emancipated minor?
A: Yes. The restriction applies to all licensed drivers who are under the age of 18.
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: Will the restriction appear on my provisional license?
A: No.
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: 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 device if you are pulled over for another violation. However, the prohibition against using a handheld wireless device while driving is a PRIMARY violation for which a law enforcement officer can pull you over.

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California finally catches up to what’s safe and realistic by enforcing a requirement to use cell phones while operating a motor vehicle with either a wireless or “wired” ear piece.

If you’re under 18, you can’t talk on the phone AT ALL while driving. This includes talking AND texting. HOORAY!

Speaker option is OK. Push to talk is NOT. I guess HANDS FREE means just that.

Calling 911 in an emergency situation is an exception. Makes sense to me.

Good luck. I think this is a law that’s LONG OVERDUE and should be enacted in all states. The ONLY accident I’ve been involved in my last 25 of driving was when I was rearended while stopped at a light when a young girl was REACHING FOR HER CELL PHONE and took here eyes off the road.


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