Distracted driving is generally defined as anything you do while you are operating a motor vehicle that takes your attention away from driving. To put it another way, it is any activity that causes you to take your eyes off the road, or your hands off the steering wheel. Engaging in any activity that takes breaks your concentration on driving is also classified as distracted driving.
In California, the legal definition of distracted driving mirrors the general definition. Therefore it is classified as “anything that takes your eyes or mind off the road, or hands off the steering wheel – especially when texting or using your phone.”
Clearly many activities fit this description. Examples may include eating, reaching for an object in another part of the car, personal grooming (such as the application of makeup, or shaving), or even listening to loud music. Some other common examples include adjusting the volume on the radio, changing the radio station or adjusting the temperature in the vehicle.
However, a 2019 survey found 46.7 percent of Californians think texting while driving is the most serious distraction. The same survey found 57.9 of California drivers had been hit or nearly hit by a driver who was talking or texting on a cell phone. Accordingly, most of our state laws were enacted to reduce accidents stemming from cell phone distractions.
Handheld cellphone use while driving is not allowed
Like many other states, California does not allow handheld cell phone use while driving. It is important to note that this applies only to drivers, not to other occupants. However, it is also important to note that the rule applies to everyone operating a motor vehicle here, even if they live elsewhere.
As we are well aware, there are always exceptions to the rules. In California, motorists are exempt from the handheld cell phone ban in the following circumstances:
- If they need to make an emergency call to summon first responders
- If they are driving authorized emergency vehicle
- If they are driving on private property
If you are caught using a handheld cell phone while driving you face a $20 fine for a first offense and $50 for a second or subsequent offense. Once applicable fees are also assessed you will probably end up paying more than $150 for a first offence and more than $250 for a second or subsequent offense.
As of July 1, 2021, you will also get a point on your license for any violation that occurs within 36 months of a prior distracted driving infraction.
Because police have primary enforcement authority for cellphone law violations, you can be stopped simply for using a handheld phone while driving.
Hands-free cellphone use while driving is permitted
That’s not to say that you cannot use a cell phone while driving at all. If you are 18 or older, you can use a cell phone as long as you aren’t actually holding it. This means you can use a cell phone with a Bluetooth or similar earpieces, but you cannot cover both ears. You can also use the speakerphone function on your cell phone to make and receive calls.
However, if you are not yet 18, you cannot use any type of electronic communications device while driving at all. This rule applies to handheld and hands-free devices. The only circumstances in which you can use your cell phone to talk or text is if you need to contact first responders in an emergency.
The fines and fees for first and second/subsequent violations of the hands-free rule are the same as those detailed above. The same stipulations to additional assessments and the total amount you may have to pay.
An important distinction is, the ban on hands-free devices for drivers under 18 is a secondary violation. Therefore, police cannot stop you for this infraction alone. an officer cannot pull you over just for this infraction. You can only be cited for this infraction if you are stopped for another reason..
Texting while driving is a no-no
In most circumstances, “texting” while driving is strictly prohibited in California. The only time it is OK is if you are:
- a first responder driving an authorized emergency vehicle
- using a manufacturer-installed system that’s set in to your vehicle
The base fines are the same as those detailed above. To reiterate, additional penalty assessments may be levied that will drastically increase the final amount you must pay.
The same stipulations regarding point assessments as of July 1, 2021 that we discussed earlier also apply.
What about other types of distracted driving?
Technically, you cannot be stopped just for eating a donut or drinking your morning coffee while you are driving in the greater Los Angeles area. However, if reaching for your skinny mocha during your morning commute causes you to swerve into another lane, an officer may charge you with another offense, such as reckless driving.
In any case, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you must take a sip of that skinny mocha, do it while you are in your driveway or your office parking lot. Better yet, wait until you are no longer in the car. After all, even the smallest distraction from driving may have lasting consequences.
At the Law Office of Parag L. Amin, p.c., we represent clients injured in car accidents caused by distracted driving. If you or someone you love was hurt in a car crash involving a distracted driver, you need an experienced personal injury law team to fight for you. Contact us to learn how we may be able to help.