A law that was passed in California last year, and that went into effect on January 1, 2017, makes it illegal for anyone operating a motor vehicle to hold in their hand and use – or even touch – a cellphone while driving. Assembly Bill 1785 (“AB 1785”) criminalizes “driving a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or a wireless electronic communication device.”
AB-1785 was approved by Governor Brown at the end of September of 2016, giving California drivers just 3 months to come to grips – no pun intended – with not gripping their mobile phones while behind the wheel (ok, maybe the pun was intended).
There is a very limited exception to the ‘no touching your cell phone while driving’ rule, and that is if, and only if your phone is mounted to your dashboard or central console, and the reason you are touching it is to “activate or deactivate a feature or function of the handheld wireless telephone or wireless communications device with the motion of a single swipe or tap of the driver’s finger.”
Single swipe or tap, people.
Bottom line – if you are behind the wheel, then the only time you can touch your phone – at all – is if it’s affixed to your dash or center console (so no keeping it on the seat next to you!), and you do a single swipe or tap (such as to answer the phone, but that phone better be in hands-free mode).
If you get caught holding your phone while driving in California your first offense will cost you $20; a second time or subsequent time will cost you $50. (Some sites are erroneously reporting the fines to be $161 for a first offense, and $281 for a second offense; they are wrong, as you can read for yourself below in the actual law.)
Here’s the full text of the law.
Text of California Law Making it Illegal to Hold Your Cell Phone While Driving
(You can also read the full text at the California Legislature Website.)
AB-1785 Vehicles: use of wireless electronic devices.(2015-2016)
Assembly Bill No. 1785
An act to repeal and add Section 23123.5 of the Vehicle Code, relating to vehicles.
[ Approved by Governor September 26, 2016. Filed with Secretary of State September 26, 2016. ]
LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL’S DIGEST
AB 1785, Quirk. Vehicles: use of wireless electronic devices.
Existing law prohibits a person from driving a motor vehicle while using an electronic wireless communications device to write, send, or read a text-based communication, as defined, unless the electronic wireless communications device is specifically designed and configured, and is used, to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation, as specified. A violation of these provisions is an infraction.
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This bill would instead prohibit a person from driving a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or a wireless electronic communication device, as defined. The bill would authorize a driver to operate a handheld wireless telephone or a wireless electronic communications device in a manner requiring the use of the driver’s hand only under specified conditions. By changing the definition of a crime, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.
The California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the state. Statutory provisions establish procedures for making that reimbursement.
This bill would provide that no reimbursement is required by this act for a specified reason.
The people of the State of California do enact as follows:
SECTION 1. Section 23123.5 of the Vehicle Code is repealed.
SEC. 2. Section 23123.5 is added to the Vehicle Code, to read:
23123.5. (a) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or an electronic wireless communications device unless the wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device is specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation, and it is used in that manner while driving.
(b) This section shall not apply to manufacturer-installed systems that are embedded in the vehicle.
(c) A handheld wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device may be operated in a manner requiring the use of the driver’s hand while the driver is operating the vehicle only if both of the following conditions are satisfied:
(1) The handheld wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device is mounted on a vehicle’s windshield in the same manner a portable Global Positioning System (GPS) is mounted pursuant to paragraph (12) of subdivision (b) of Section 26708 or is mounted on or affixed to a vehicle’s dashboard or center console in a manner that does not hinder the driver’s view of the road.
(2) The driver’s hand is used to activate or deactivate a feature or function of the handheld wireless telephone or wireless communications device with the motion of a single swipe or tap of the driver’s finger.
(d) A violation of this section is an infraction punishable by a base fine of twenty dollars ($20) for a first offense and fifty dollars ($50) for each subsequent offense.
(e) This section does not apply to an emergency services professional using an electronic wireless communications device while operating an authorized emergency vehicle, as defined in Section 165, in the course and scope of his or her duties.
(f) For the purposes of this section, “electronic wireless communications device” includes, but is not limited to, a broadband personal communication device, a specialized mobile radio device, a handheld device or laptop computer with mobile data access, a pager, or a two-way messaging device.
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