If you didn’t drive a car while talking on your handheld cell phone yesterday, you missed your last chance to do so without violating California law.
Two laws that went into effect as of midnight today prohibit all drivers from using a handheld wireless phone while operating a motor vehicle. The law does not fully prohibit driving and chatting however, as drivers 18 years old and older may legally do so using a hands-free device. Drivers can even legally dial their phones using a hands-free device, though state law enforcers are strongly discouraging people from doing so because of the safety risks it poses. Text messaging is also technically permitted, but an explanation of how the enforcement of this law from CHP spokesperson Officer Dan Barbara said that drivers can always be pulled over if any activity seems to be distracting them from driving safely. Those under 18 years old are out of luck entirely: Talking while driving is illegal even with a hands-free device. Use of cell phones during emergencies is permitted, however, provided the call is to a law enforcement agency, a medical provider, the fire department, or some other such service.
Violators of these laws will be cited $20 for the first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense, but further penalty assessments would push the overall fine up to $76 and $190. Violation will not, however, merit a point on offenders’ driving records.
Finally, despite rumors to the contrary, those in violation of this rule can be pulled over if a law enforcement officer sees them chatting away. The exception for this rule is for drivers under 18 years old talking on a hands-free device. For them, doing so is a secondary offence that they can only be cited for if they have already been pulled over for another violation.