Home Blog Car Accident California Expands Hands-Free Cellphone Law

California Expands Hands-Free Cellphone Law

By Aline Miranda on September 28, 2016

Gov. Brown recently signed AB 1785 which will significantly expand California’s restrictions on using your cell phone while driving. The new law will go into effect on January 1, 2017.

Currently, the law prohibits a person from driving while using “an electronic wireless communications device” to write, send, or read a text-based communication unless the device is specifically used to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation. The new bill will instead prohibit a person from driving while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or a wireless electronic communication device. The focus is now on the act of holding the phone in your hand, rather than on how you are using the phone (such as texting).

State Assemblyman Bill Quirk told HandsFreeInfo.com that the old law was “archaic” and ineffective because technology had “improved so rapidly, and our cell phones are more capable of much more than just calls and text messages. Smartphones have an abundance of available features that demand a driver’s attention, leading to very dangerous driving behavior. However, such activities are not clearly prohibited by law.”

Assemblyman Quirk was referring to a legal loophole created by a 2014 Fresno case where a driver was ticketed for checking a map application while stopped in traffic. The driver argued that he did not violate the law because he was neither talking nor texting on his phone. The Fifth District Court of Appeal agreed with him, stating that the law could be not written to prohibit all activities, just talking and texting.

HandsFreeInfo.com reports a recent study of California drivers showed “almost 10% were using cell phones in 2015. California’s Office of Traffic Safety and the California Highway Patrol released a study on July 14 suggesting a 39% increase in the percentage of drivers using the wireless devices compared with 2014. Not all of the use was illegal, as the figure included drivers using hands-free devices. Overall, 5.4% of observed drivers displayed some sort of distracted driving due to device use, compared with 3.8% in 2014.”

The new law closes that loophole and will prohibit drivers from checking maps, adjusting music playlists, taking photos, live streaming or doing anything else on their phones unless a hands-free device is used.