California: Cell phone laws, legislation

Last updated: February 11, 2018
Distracted driving news: The annual observational study of California drivers found almost 8 percent were using electronic communications devices while behind the wheel in 2017. That’s down from almost 13 percent in 2016, the state Office of Traffic Safety reported. Not all of the use was illegal, as the figures included estimates of drivers using hands-free devices. Handheld use, which is illegal in California, was reported at 3.6 percent, down from 7.6 percent in 2016. Three counties showed handheld use “significantly above the state average”: San Bernardino, Contra Costa and San Joaquin.

State of California flag California’s rewrite of its electronic distracted driving law gets some of the credit from the OTS for any decrease in handheld use. The law’s wording, inspired by a court ruling, puts the focus on use of the handheld electronic device itself, rather than the activity (such as texting). AB 1785 was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in fall 2016. Read more about Assembly Bill 1785.

Current prohibitions:

  • Adult drivers (18 and older) banned from using cell phones unless they employ hands-free devices.
  • Text messaging banned for all drivers. The law prohibits use of electronic devices to “write, send, or read a text-based communication.” Hands-free and voice-controlled texting allowed.
  • Drivers under age 18 are prohibited from using wireless phones while driving — with or without hands-free accessories.
  • School bus operators and transit bus drivers prohibited from using cell phones while driving.

View the California text messaging law | cell phone law | teen wireless device law

Cell phone and text-messaging fines: The “true cost” of a distracted driving ticket is $162 for the first offense and $285 for subsequent offenses (source: OTS). No points.

Distracted driving notes (2018):
State Sen. John Newman proposes making cell phone offenses moving violations, with demerit points that would be reflected on records available to insurance companies. “If you’re making a choice to put your life and others’ lives in danger by reading a text or texting or while driving, your driving record should reflect that choice,” Newman said after he introduced Senate Bill 1030 in early February. A half dozen states already use demerits to combat electronic distracted driving.

The annual observational study of California drivers found “manipulating a handheld device” was the most cited behavior — interpreted as texting & driving, but also including checking email and using GPS. The practice of talking on a handheld seems to have increased, researchers said. The observations were made in mid-2017.

The California Highway Patrol says collisions linked to cell phone use fell from 1,968 in 2016 to 1,894 in 2017. Injuries were up — from 849 to 877 — and deaths remained the same (18).

Distracted driving legislation (2017-2018):
Senate Bill 1030: Would make electronic distracted driving offenses subject to a demerit point vs. the driver’s license, as a moving violation. (Newman)

Assembly Bill 970: Would require mobile phone service providers to offer cutoff of distracting functions of cell phones when user is driving. Died in Transportation on Jan. 31, 2018. (Frazier)

2015-2016 distracted driving legislation:
Assembly Bill 1785: Would bar driving while operating a wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device unless the device is specifically designed for and used in a voice-operated and/or hands-free manner. Rewrite of current law in wake of court ruling. Approved by Transportation in an 11-1 vote of April 11. Approved by the full Assembly in a 48-22 vote of May 31. Amended and approved by the Senate Transportation Committee in a 6-3 vote of June 28. Approved by the full Senate in a 23-13 vote of Aug. 17. Final approval by Assembly in 52-20 vote of Aug. 23. Signed into law by the governor Sept. 26. (Quick)

Senate Bill 491: Explicitly prohibits wearing earbuds or headsets covering, resting on, or inserted in both ears when operating a motor vehicle or bicycle. Hearing aids excepted. Provision of omnibus transportation bill. OK’d by the House in a unanimous vote of Aug. 27. Final approval by the Senate on Sept. 1. Signed into law by the governor Oct. 2.

SB 737: Would have increased penalty for text messaging to $40 (base), then $100, with 1 point vs. driver’s license. Approved by the Transportation Committee in an 8-1 vote of April 28. Held in committee as of May 28. (Stone)

ACR 52: Proclaimed April 2015 as Distracted Driving Awareness Month and encourages awareness of the distracted driving issue. Approved unanimously by the Assembly and Senate. (Frazier)

2016 distracted driving notes:
The California Highway Patrol will conduct at least 100 distracted driving enforcement operations and at least 600 traffic safety presentations statewide via a grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety. The initiative runs through the end of September 2017, the CHP said Nov. 9.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk celebrated the governor’s signing of his rewrite of the state’s electronic distracted driving law. Quirk said the state’s “archaic laws” were ineffective because technology has “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.”

Quirk added: “I am proud that Gov. Brown has agreed that it is time that we update our archaic laws on the issue and do our part to make sure drivers are focused on the road. This bill will save lives.”

An amateur radio group is alarmed by California’s rewrite of its distracted driving laws. The National Association for Amateur Radio said Oct. 4 that the wording on devices affected by the handheld ban was “subject to misinterpretation by individual law enforcement officers” — but noted it “does not specifically proscribe use of mobile amateur radio equipment for voice communication.” The group called the new law an “example of bad legislative draftsmanship.”

A Camarillo woman was sentenced to 300 days in Ventura County jail for killing a bicyclist and a motorcyclist while distracted by her cell phone. The Sept. 20 sentence was accompanied by protests of friends and families of the victims who were outraged by the misdemeanor charges against the young woman, Rachel Hill.

2015 distracted driving notes:
A San Diego woman received a six-year prison term for killing a young woman on a freeway while driving distracted. The state said Jorene Ypano Nicolas sent more than a dozen text messages and was talking on her phone before she slammed into a stopped vehicle, killing Deanna Mauer. Nicolas was found guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter Aug. 13 and sentenced Sept. 4.

The omnibus transportation bill of 2015 closed some loopholes regarding drivers’ use of earplugs and headsets. The new wording prohibits “wearing earbuds or headsets covering, resting on, or inserted in both ears when operating a motor vehicle or bicycle.” Hearing aids allowed. The mostly technical Senate Bill 491 was signed into law in October.

The annual observational study of California drivers showed almost 10 percent were using cell phones in 2015. California’s Office of Traffic Safety and the California Highway Patrol released a study July 14 suggesting a 39 percent 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. Read the cell phone driving study.

State Sen. Jeff Stone’s bid to double the fines for texting & driving, and assign 1 demerit point to violators, stalled out in committee in May. A similar bill was vetoed by the governor the year before.

During April’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month, about 250 law-enforcement agencies across California ticketed more than 46,000 drivers using a cell phone while driving — roughly double the number of tickets issued during the average month.

Distracted driving legislation (2013-14):
Assembly Bill 1646: Seeks to hike fine for electronic distracted driving to $50 (first offense) and $100 for subsequent offenses. Adds a demerit point for subsequent offenses. Would add questions related to distracted driving to driver’s license tests. Approved by the Transportation Committee in a 13-1 vote of April 28, 2014. Approved by Appropriations in a 16-1 vote on May 7. Approved by the full Assembly in a 68-9 vote of May 15. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee in a unanimous vote of June 17. Approved by the Senate in a 32-3 vote of Aug. 21. Approved by the Assembly in a 66-13 vote of Aug. 25. Vetoed by the governor Sept. 30, 2014. (Frazier)

Senate Bill 194: For drivers under age 18, would add use of “an electronic communications device” to current ban on all cell phone use. Targets use of voice-operated, hands-free texting technology by drivers under age 18. Approved by the Transportation Committee in an 11-0 vote taken April 2, 2013; public hearing April 15. Approved by the full Senate on April 22 in a 35-3 vote. OK’d by the Assembly’s Transportation Committee in a unanimous vote of June 17. Approved by Assembly Appropriations in a 16-1 vote July 3. Approved by the full Assembly in a 70-4 vote of Sept. 3. Signed into law by the governor Oct. 11, 2013. (Galgiani)

AB 313: Would remove from California texting law the exemptions for voice-operated and hands-free operation. Also seeks to remove exemption for activating or deactivating a feature on a wireless communications device. Rejected by the Transportation Committee in an 8-3 vote of April 8, but reconsidered April 15. Latest legislative action: Approved by the Transportation Committee in a 9-5 vote of April 16. Failed passage in Appropriations on May 1 but reconsideration granted. Hearing of late May “canceled at the request of the author.” Dead. (Frazier)

AB 840: Would add to California driver’s license application an acknowledgement of the dangers of distracted driving. Approved by the Transportation Committee in a 10-2 vote of April 16. Approved by Appropriations in a 12-5 vote of May 24. Approved by the full Assembly in a 56-19 vote of May 31. Stalled in Senate Transportation Committee as of late June. Dead as of November 2014. (Ammiano)

2014 distracted driving notes:
The Senate and Assembly approved a 2014 plan to more than double fines for drivers using handheld electronic devices, but it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who has a history of rejecting increases in California’s distracted driving fines. (Brown did OK an expansion of cell phone laws affecting novice drivers in 2013.) The new penalties under Assembly Bill 1646 — approved by the Assembly and Senate in August — would have been $50 and then $100, with drivers assessed a point vs. their license for serial offenses. Assemblyman Jim Frazier, now chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, did not refile the legislation for 2015.

California drivers may use their smart phones to check maps and similar functions, an appeals court ruled in February 2014. The closely watched court case was brought by a driver ticketed for checking his cell phone’s GPS. He argued, and the court agreed, that the California handheld cell phone law applied only to drivers engaged in a call due to its wording. Read about the Fifth District Court of Appeal distracted driving ruling.

The Office of Traffic Safety says the percentage of drivers actively using cell phones at any one time across the state dropped to its lowest point since counting began in 2011. That’s based on an observational study conducted in March by the UC Berkeley Safe Transportation Research and Education Center.

Law officers in California issued 425,041 tickets last year for cell phone infractions. Texting & driving citations numbered just over 21,0000 in 2012, the California Office of Traffic Safety said.

2013 distracted driving notes:
Caltrans says distracted driving is a clear and present danger for workers in its “cone zones.” Safety officials went public with their concerns after a series of crashes in September. “People feel they can still drive at maximum speeds. They are distracted. They are not getting ready for a change of conditions ahead,” an Office of Traffic Safety spokesman told the Sacramento Bee. Illegal cell phone use is a major concern, OTS said.

The OTS, meanwhile, said its observational study showed a 33 percent drop in the number of drivers holding cell phones to their ears. The percentage of drivers using a cell phone dropped from 10.8 percent in 2012 to 7.4 percent in 2013, which signaled a return to 2011 levels, the OTS reported.

“We are very encouraged to see the usage figures decline, especially after the increase last year,” OTS Director Christopher Murphy said. “But any number is too high.”

The governor has approved legislation that bans all forms of texting for teen drivers. The new law, which addresses an apparent loophole created in 2012, was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Oct. 11. It had been easily approved by the Assembly in early September, following up the Senate’s OK of April 2013.

Specifically, the law created by Senate Bill 194 clarifies that the use of voice-operated, hands-free texting technology is prohibited for drivers under age 18. A broadly worded 2012 law backed by the auto industry permitted the hands-free texting and did not exclude younger drivers.

SB 194 comes from freshman Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton. The bill sailed through the full Senate with a vote of 35-3 on April 22 and then the Assembly with a 70-4 vote Sept. 3.

More than 57,000 tickets were handed out for use of handheld wireless devices during the statewide crackdown that coincided with Distracted Driving Awareness Month, officials said.

The California Highway Patrol and about 250 other law enforcement agencies participated in the April sweep. The number of citations was about the same as in 2012, the Office of Traffic Safety said in late May.

Assembly Bill 313 would remove from the texting & driving law the exemptions for voice-operated and hands-free text messaging. The bill from new Assemblyman Jim Frazier was rejected by the Transportation Committee in early April, but reconsidered and approved by the panel April 16. It appears to be dead for the year, however.

The Assembly Transportation Committee quickly rejected a plan to make hands-free texting illegal again, but reconsidered in mid-April. The exemptions for voice-operated and hands-free text messaging were added in 2012 with the so-called Commuter Freedom Bill, and approved by the governor. AB 313 was among the first bills filed by freshman Assembly member Jim Frazier (D-Oakley).

Frazier’s office released a statement from traffic safety expert Richard Harkness saying that the 2012 hands-free texting exemption was “one of the most dangerous traffic laws I have seen in my lifetime.”

April’s statewide crackdown on texting & talking while driving comes under the “It’s Not Worth It!” promo banner. “In a few short years, distracted driving has grown to be a nationwide traffic safety concern,” said Office of Traffic Safety chief Christopher Murphy. “We all need to put forth the effort necessary to put an end to it.”

Joe Simitian, the father of California’s distracted driving laws, has left the state Senate. Simitian, a Democrat, had to step down because of term limits. He is now a Santa Clara County supervisor. Simitian’s win streak with the state’s groundbreaking cell phone and text messaging laws ended as the governor vetoed two of the senator’s attempts to increase fines for electronic distracted driving.

The latest Sacramento-area sweep in the federally funded “Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other” program ran Feb. 25-March 10. In phase 1, high winds and rain probably kept down the number of citations for texting and cell phone use, the California Office of Traffic Safety said. Still, there were 2,923 tickets handed out between Nov. 30 and Dec. 9, 2012. The pilot program is set for another “maximum enforcement period” in the Sacramento region during 2013.

“Drivers should expect to see officers enforcing cell phone driving laws time and time again,” said OTS director Christopher Murphy. OTS was awarded $600,000 in federal transportation funding under the test program, which began in Hartford, Ct., and Syracuse, N.Y., in 2011.

Officers wrote about 3,000 tickets in the region Nov. 30-Dec. 9. Delaware, which also received the federal funding, reported that 1,830 distracted drivers were ticketed statewide in phase 1.

Distracted driving legislation (filed in 2012):
Assembly Bill 1536: Rewrites current law to allow drivers to dictate, send, or listen to a text-based communication via voice-operated and hands-free enabled devices. Approved by the Assembly in a 69-3 vote taken May 7. Approved by the Senate in a 36-0 vote of June 28. Sent to the governor July 5. Signed into law July 14. (Miller)

Senate Bill 1310: Would increase fines for using handheld cell phones or text messaging while driving in California to $30 (first offense) and then $60. (Current fines are $20/$50.) Would mandate a drivers license point for each offense following the first. Bicyclists included, but fines would be $20/$50 with no additional fees and no points against license. (The Assembly version of the bill deleted the bicyclist provision Aug. 16.) Also would order DMV to test license applicants on knowledge of dangers associated with handheld electronic devices. Would exempt voice-operated texting. Would delete current prohibition on police pulling over suspected distracted driving offenders to determine if a violation has occurred. (Bill originally called for fine increases to $50 (first offense) and then $100.) Approved by the Transportation and Housing Committee on March 27, following the amendment to lower the fine increases. Amended and approved by the Appropriations Committee in a 5-1 vote April 30. The amendment removed exemption for hands-free texting. Approved by the Senate in a 24-9 vote on May 14. To the Assembly. Approved by the Assembly Transportation Committee in a 9-3 vote taken June 12. Amended (to exempt bicyclists) and approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee in a 12-5 vote taken Aug. 16. Latest legislative action: Amendments approved by the Senate in 28-9 vote of Aug. 28. Vetoed by the governor Sept. 28, 2012. (Simitian)

2012 distracted driving notes:
Gov. Jerry Brown again vetoed a plan to increase distracted driving fines in California. The Sept. 28, 2012, rejection means two vetoes for distracted driving fine hikes in two straight years.

“Upping the (distracted driving) fines may satisfy the punitive instincts of some, but I severely doubt that it will further reduce violations,” Brown said in his SB 1310 veto message (PDF).

Brown did approve a guarantee that Californians will be allowed to use hands-free technology to text message while driving. The measure was signed into law July 14. Automakers, smartphone makers and creators of various dictation devices are lobbying nationwide for changes in laws and legislation that would allow hands-free and voice-controlled operation of electronic systems.

The Senate’s 28-9 vote of Aug. 28 sent Senate Bill 1310 to Brown, who used every day of the month he was allowed to decide on a veto. Last year Brown vetoed Simitian’s plan to double the fines for driving while texting or using handheld cell phones. The governor cited a burden on “people of ordinary means.”

Electronic distracted driving fines under the vetoed Senate Bill 1310 would have been $30 (first offense) then $60. In the real world, that translated to as much as $251 (depending on county) or $372 out of pocket.

“I believe the current fines and penalties … for cell phone and texting while driving are a powerful deterrent,” Brown wrote in his veto message of Sept. 28 “I have found even a $50 ticket unpleasant enough.”

The increased fine revenue under SB 1310 was intended to establish and fund a distracted driving education program in the California Office of Traffic Safety.

Sponsor state Sen. Joe Simitian said Aug. 28: “This bill (SB 1310) would toughen penalties, add the deterrent of a point on the driving record, and help fund a program to spread the word among those drivers that no text or phone call is worth the cost of a life.” The extra $10 per violation would have gone directly to distracted driving education.

The measure would have extended the restrictions to bicyclists, but an Assembly amendment removed that wording.

Assemblyman Jeff Miller, R-Corona, pushed through AB 1536, which allows for hands-free texting: “I can relate to the frustration of many Californians who were unable to communicate with friends, family and business partners while driving because it is currently against the law to operate text-based functions while driving,” he said.

Miller called the hands-free texting measure’s passage “a huge victory for commuters.” Read the HandsFreeInfo report: “Hands-free texting OK’d in California.”

April’s distracted driving sweep by law agencies across California resulted in 57,000 electronic distracted driving tickets. Another 3,800 were written for general distracted driving, the Office of Traffic Safety reported May 16. The CHP and 265 local law enforcement agencies conducted the crackdown as part of Distracted Driving Month. The number of tickets is up slightly from 2011’s April numbers.

Fatalities linked to handheld cell phone use fell by 47 percent in the two years after California banned their use by drivers, a new study indicates. Similar reductions occurred in the number of injuries. Deaths associated with hands-free cell phone use also decreased, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety. (Read about the cell phone death reductions.)

State Sen. Joe Simitian, father of the state’s distracted driving laws, “hopes to find common ground with the governor this year” on a plan to toughen penalties for driving while texting or using handheld cell phones. Simitian, D-Palo Alto, saw Gov. Jerry Brown veto his SB 28 in 2011.

Simitian said of the Office of Traffic Safety-funded report showing dramatic reductions in cell phone-related deaths: “It’s clear that most California drivers get it. … But we also know that there are still too many drivers texting and talking on hand-held cell phones. For drivers who still haven’t gotten the message, studies like this help underscore the fact that no phone call or text is worth the cost of a life.” Simitian is a Democrat from Palo Alto.

The DMV reports 460,487 handheld cell phone convictions for 2011, an increase of 22 percent compared with 2010 (361,260) and up 52 percent from 2009 (301,833).

California law enforcement agencies geared up for April’s second National Distracted Driving Awareness Month campaign, “It’s Not Worth It!” More than 200 local law enforcement agencies and 103 CHP offices will be participating. The sweep coincides with California Teen Safe Driving Week, which is the first week of April. The state is using a George Romero-like PSA campaign against “zombie-like behavior” linked to distracted driving. Last year’s April crackdown brought more than 52,664 citations statewide.

A mid-February distracted driving sweep in San Diego yielded 414 tickets. The Highway Patrol and Sheriff’s department partnered on the crackdown. Only three of the tickets went to teen drivers.

The Southern California crackdown on teen distracted drivers of Jan. 27 resulted in 118 citations and four arrests.

The California Highway Patrol’s New Year’s “zero tolerance” sweep of distracted drivers yielded 115 tickets. The Dec. 30-31 crackdown snared 111 drivers for handheld cell phone use, and four for text messaging. Sixteen warnings were handed out. A CHP spokesman said distracted driving violators had become “pretty blatant” in 2011.

2011 distracted driving notes:
California drivers consider cell phone use the No. 1 menace on the roads, followed closely by text messaging. A state traffic safety office survey about roadway perils found that cell phoning and texting by drivers both overtook 2010’s No. 1 worry, “speeding and aggressive driving.” (Read the California traffic safety survey.)

The state Senate and House approved Sen. Joe Simitian’s SB 28, a reprise of his 2010 plan to more than double fines for distracted driving violations. That wasn’t enough: The 2011 bill was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown on Aug. 15, and he vetoed it Sept. 7.

“I certainly support discouraging cell phone use while driving a car, but not ratcheting up the penalties as prescribed by this bill,” Brown wrote in his veto message.

“For people of ordinary means, current fines and penalty assessments should be sufficient deterrent.”

Under the Simitian plan, fines for using handheld cell phones or text messaging while driving would have increased to $50 (first offense) and $100. In addition, a point would have been charged against the driver’s license on second and subsequent offenses. A first offense would have cost violators about $310 after court costs. Repeat offenses would have hit $528, plus the point.

San Francisco’s airport (SFO) wants visitors to know the state cell phone and texting laws for drivers. New advisory signs have gone up at auto rental counters as well as at entrances to fleet garages. San Francisco International also will post traffic signs on the garages’ exit ramps and on the exit road, Bay City News reported.

Use of push-to-talk cell phones are no longer legal for use by truck drivers as of July 1, 2011 — in state-speak, that’s “a digital two-way radio that utilizes a wireless telephone that operates by depressing a push-to-talk feature.” Truck and tractor-trailer operators will have to get hands-free accessories to be in compliance, just like the rest of us.

Traffic deaths in the Golden State were down 12 percent in 2010, from 3,081 deaths in 2009 to 2,715 in 2010. California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow said: “Through the behavioral changes of the motoring public, like buckling up, designating a non-drinking driver and eliminating distractions, progress is made daily, resulting in lives saved.” The Office of Traffic Safety announced July 20 that $76 million from federal funding has been awarded, which will be spent on law enforcement crackdowns and education, such as the new peer-to-peer project, Teens in the Driver’s Seat.

California’s monthlong spring crackdown on distracted driving yielded more than 52,664 citations. The sweep came in conjunction with Distracted Driving Month (April). Statewide fatalities were down 7 percent from April 2010, but the Office of Traffic Safety said it wasn’t clear this had anything to do with the cell phone and texting crackdown.

April was the first Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which inspired the California Highway Patrol to run a long-term sweep against violators of the state’s distracted driving laws. More than 100 California Highway Patrol units and 225 police departments established zero-tolerance days for cell phone and texting violations.

The CHP’s yearlong “Adult Distracted Driving II” campaign ran through Sept. 30, 2012. By the time that grant money runs out, 50 distracted driving enforcement operations will have been conducted statewide. Funding originated with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

2011-2012 cell phone, texting legislation:
Senate Bill 28: Seeks to hike fines for using handheld cell phones or text messaging while driving to $50 (first offense) and $100. (Current fines are $20/$50.) Would mandate a drivers license point for each offense following the first. Bicyclists included, but fines would be $20/$50 with no additional fees and no points against license. Similar to Simitian’s SB 1475 from the 2010 session, with these two changes: Point against license assessed only after second violation; texting permitted with “voice-operated, hands-free devices.” The measure provides $10 of each fine to education programs about the dangers of distracted driving.

SB 28 legislative history: Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee in a 6-3 vote on March 29; amended and approved by the Appropriations Committee in a 5-1 vote on April 11. Approved by the Senate in a 24-12 vote on April 25. Latest legislative action: Approved by the Assembly Transportation Committee in a 13-1 vote on June 14. Cleared Appropriations in a 10-5 vote on July 6. Approved by the full House on July 14 and returned to the Senate for its approval of the House’s amendments. Sent to the governor for his approval on Aug. 15. Vetoed by the governor Sept. 7. (Simitian)

2010 distracted driving notes:
Cell phone use by drivers ranked No. 2 in a survey about the biggest safety problems on California’s highways. In Southern California, texting and driving was seen as more of a danger than in the northern part of the state. About 45 percent of respondents said they’d made a mistake while using a cell phone while driving. The state Office of Traffic Safety survey, released in mid-November, was based on interviews with 1,671 drivers at gas stations throughout California. (Speeding and aggressive driving ranked No. 1 on the list of dangers.) Update: In 2011, both cell phone use and texting were seen as more significant dangers than speeding/aggressive driving, which came in third.

The California Highway Patrol’s Coastal Division conducted a two-day sweep on cell phone violations, on Nov. 23 and 24. In the region between Santa Cruz and Ventura, 368 tickets for cell phone use were handed out by the CHP and local law officers. One driver was cited for text messaging.

The California Highway Patrol ran two day-long crackdowns on distracted driving during October 2010. The days were Oct. 5 and Oct. 26. Southern California law officers have been focusing on distracted driving all month.

State Sen. Joe Simitian said he “was at a loss” to explain his SB 1475’s death in committee. “The problem hasn’t gone away and we’ll take a look at it at some point in the future,” he told the Napa Valley Register.

As the 2010 session began, Simitian said he’d “heard repeatedly that the current fines are too modest. They wouldn’t be anymore” under his SB 1475. The senator did back down a bit on the new fines for bicyclists due to protests from riders groups.

Simitian’s law banning drivers’ use of handheld cell phones has resulted in “at least 700 fewer fatalities and 75,000 to 100,000 fewer collisions each year.” He said Feb. 17 that California Highway Patrol data show “an immediate drop” of 40 percent to 50 percent in accidents linked to cell phone use.

“We’ve been able to reduce the number of deaths and crashes even as we’ve seen more drivers and more cell phones out on the highway,” said Simitian.

The percentage of people texting and driving has doubled in Southern California despite the statewide ban on the distracted driving practice, the area’s Auto Club says. Handheld cell phone use remains about the same, the organization reported, based on its “observational” studies in Orange County. Read the story: Auto Club: Texting & driving soaring

The California Highway Patrol says it has issued about 283,000 tickets for use of handheld cell phones (as of mid-September 2010). The CHP also reports a total of 3,742 text messaging tickets. The California cell phone law went into effect July 1, 2008, and enforcement of the texting ban began Jan. 1, 2009.

The CHP reported June 30, 2010: “Cell phones are the leading, identifiable, contributing factor to inattentive driver crashes in California. … “There have been more than 1,200 collisions throughout the state where a contributing factor was inattention by the driver due to cell phone usage. Those same collisions resulted in 16 fatalities and more than 850 victims injured.”

The CHP writes about two-thirds of the distracted driving tickets issued statewide, at a rate of 12,000 to 14,000 a month.

California’s Central Valley was targeted for a 48-hour distracted driving crackdown in late-September 2010. Almost 2,100 drivers were ticketed for use of handheld cell phones. Texting resulted in 67 tickets.

Bay Area law enforcement agencies and the California Highway Patrol ran a zero-tolerance sweep on distracted drivers during August. Drivers talking talking on their cell phones or text messaging were targeted. The crackdown began Aug. 10, with CHP issuing 348 cell phone violations and two for texting. On Aug. 18, the numbers were 703 and 55.

The Assembly Committee on Appropriations estimates increased distracted driving fines under Senate Bill 1475 would bring in another $32 million annually.

2010 cell phone, texting legislation:
Senate Bill 1475: Would have increased fines for using handheld cell phones or text messaging while driving to $50 (first offense) and $100. (Current fines are $20/$50.) Would mandate a drivers license point for each offense following the first. Bicyclists would be included in the cell phone and texting prohibitions, but fines would be $20/$50 with no points (per amendment of April 6). Allows police to pull over teen drivers suspected of using cell phones. The measure provides $10 of each fine to education programs about the dangers of distracted driving.

SB 1475 legislative history: Amended and approved by the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee (April 6, 5-1 vote). Cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee (May 10, 6-3 vote). The full Senate approved the bill on June 3 in a 21-16 vote. Cleared the Assembly Committee on Transportation June 22 in 8-6 vote. Failed to advance in the Appropriations Committee.

Latest action on SB 1475: Dead for the year. (Simitian)

Previous cell phone legislation notes:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed SB 33, the hands-free cell phone bill, into law in September 2006.

State Sen. Joe Simitian had been trying to pass the bill for six years. He was resisted by all of the major cell phone providers except Verizon, although in the end only Sprint protested the action. After SB 33 passed, the senator later succeeded with SB 1613, which places the cell phone and texting limits on teen drivers.

Then Simitian added the ban on text-messaging while driving to the state’s lawbooks in late September 2008, when Schwarzenegger signed the legislation. SB 28 was approved and sent to the governor on Aug. 21, 2008. It took effect Jan. 1, 2009.

View the posts:
Simitian: Hike Calif. distracted driving fines
Simitian defends California cell phone ban
California spikes drivers’ text messaging
California’s hands-free law now in effect


  1. Alyson Geller says:

    California’s new law condones a reckless behavior. A piddley $20 fine for holding a phone, while distracted swiping and tapping is allowed.

  2. Seamus McDermott says:

    I should mention that the fine for using a cell phone in Ireland while driving (hands-free exempted) is 1000 Euro. That’s about $1200 US. That is the level where you begin to see people stop texting and blathering while driving.

    You can always find a place to pull off the road and use your phone safely. Nobody has a problem with that. It’s whey you feel you’re entitled to do what you want at the risk of others that you should be vigorously fined. And I mean vigorously fined, not wrist-slapped. There is no reason whatsoever that you can claim using the phone was an accident. It is always deliberate, thus, the stiffer fine is called for.

  3. Seamus McDermott says:

    Don’t you just love all the people who write in here because they expect an exemption from the law, or they say, I was just getting directions from google (How the feck do you get directions from google without entering text? That’s TEXTING, dummies!)

    But the worst are the idiotic self-entitled “patriots’ that decry this as “an attack on their personal freedom”. Everyone has a reason why they were breaking the law. But precious few have an “excuse”.

  4. stephen says:

    After being hit 3 times in 3 years — once to the tune of a compressed C4/C5 — I want to increase the fines substantially. The ONLY way to deter L.A. drivers from this is to hurt them in the pocket book. Also incentivize officers to stop being lazy and actually write more tickets, and make this type not contestable.

    I’m thinking $1,500 for the first offense, $2,500 everyone there after. That should stop a lot of the idiots. I can’t stand people in $100k cars that have bluetooth who are too lazy or entitled to use it, or moms with kids holding a phone while driving. It has to stop.

  5. Bruce Alan says:

    Cell phone tickets last year generated over 1 billion dollars. This figure will increase as they are figuring out other ways to increase the penalties, other violations and now cell phone use on bikes. I just received me first ticket for cell phone. A ticket for picking up my phone off the seat to see what time it was. …

  6. Kristi Krafft says:

    i recently got a ticket while I was pulling into a parking lot on private property. The cop said he saw me using a cel phone. I have wireless bluetooth in my car and never took the call, let alone even knew who was calling me. I just glanced at the screen. The cop refused to believe me and wrote me a ticket.

    Why is it you can eat, drink, smoke, turn radio stations with music blaring or be a distracted parent with kids/babies or have a full carload of people and this is acceptable but a quick glance is not?

  7. Stan Hubler says:

    The radio station KNX in Los Angeles encourages motorists to call in traffic hazards or tieups. To be fair, KNX will have to stop that practice, unless the motorist completely leaves the freeway or roadway and pulls over and parks with the key out of the ignition. The state should focus on preventing ladders, et cetera, from being on the freeway, and if you want to call it in, there should be an exception in the law that allows that.

  8. Joshua Wardrop says:

    Not sure how this is calculated, but “Cell phone and text-messaging fines: First offense $20 … With court costs and penalties, the true costs of those tickets are $76” the Los Angeles Times reports.” is not true. I was given my very first ticket for use of a wireless telephone (even though I was NOT even holding a phone whatsoever), and the bail is $162.00. We’ll see what happens in court. I did not have a phone in my hand, and the officer said “I saw you looking down, so I assumed you were using a cellphone.”

    • Hey, Joshua. I got a ticket the same way! Did you go to court, and what was the outcome? I have my court date in 1 month but I don’t know if I should go through all that trouble. It’s basically my word against the officer.

  9. Steve Willimas says:

    The cell phones laws need to be must stricker like Spain. The fines should be like 500-600 like in Spain caught with a cell phone while driving.

  10. they see the reflection of your cell on the windows. especially at night

  11. Jim Yonaldson on Sept. 24th makes a very telling point whether he knows it or not. The reason why the anti-texting laws are phony is because these laws don’t stop people from texting. They just make the driver hide the device in their lap, which creates a bigger hazard since now the driver has to take his eyes off the road completely. And that’s why traffic crashes are up in NY.

    You see, Jim, a lot of drivers, like you are very sneaky. And you all think you’re in control…..until you crash and take some innocent victim with you.

  12. Mike Schlofner says:

    What makes you think the cops care about you. They, like the politicians, are just following the orders of one of their masters, the insurance industry. We are mandated to pay them protection money, thanks to the politicians. The insurance industry does not want to give any money back. Thus the laws and enforcement of these matters. Its all about money.

  13. Jim Yonaldson says:

    If you got Caught texting and driving you must not be very sneeky

  14. Ron Wilson says:

    Cell phones are being used as a way to fill revenue for the CA Govt. It is the only legal item that has been addressed to correct a serious problem on the roads: Drivers not paying attention to driving. Until autos automatically drive themselves we need to focus on the roadway. No Eating, drinking, reading the newspaper and or books. … Anytime a person takes their eyes off the road for split second it can result in catastrophic accidents.

  15. It appears to me that the laws do not cover taking photos with my phone while driving? Technically speaking I can chew on my phone, listen to music from it, snap video and pictures on it, and use it’s navigation feature no?

  16. Judith L. Wood says:

    A young girl hit me in a crosswalk while she was looking at her cell phone. She did not see me until she hit me. Nothing was done to her. The police told me if they do not see it they do not ticket. Some of my injuries were life threatening and I spent eight days in the hospital. I now have problems with some of those injuries for the rest of my life. I am still trying to move on and feel safe to go for a walk. But the city has done nothing to improve pedestrian safety.

  17. Natalie says:

    I recently got into a debate with my brother over the “texting law” and found that the DMV website says, “a person shall not be deemed to be writing, reading, or sending a text-based communication if the person reads, selects, or enters a telephone number or name in an electronic wireless communications device for the purpose of making or receiving a telephone call”, so how can an officer pull you over for merely touching your phone when the law clearly states that it is not illegal to dial on your phone? I don’t get it. The website is not clear as to if you are allowed to use your phone for navigation purposes or even internet (I like to check traffic while driving, but don’t tell the cops!).

    • “The only purpose that you can use your phone [for] while driving is for making a hands-free call,” says California Highway Patrol Ofc. Mike Ferguson.

  18. Just got my first ticket for talking on my cell phone while driving. Was I a distracted driver? I don’t think so. I expected an important call around a few hour time slot while driving on the road and couldn’t safely pull over to the shoulder. My phone was on my lap and all I had to do was touch screen one thing which takes like 1-50th of a second. I have no idea how this cop found me. The worst part is, this was a call I was expecting about a job prospect.

    I do think most of these statistics are B.S. like some of the earlier comments. Texting while driving I can understand, but the cell phone I cannot. The coordination and the time spent texting in the car imo is much, much worse than just the cell phone.

  19. Ronald T. Robertson says:

    Throw a scrap of paper or a cigarette butt out the car window in California and it’s a $1,000 fine. Weave all over the street while texting and they fine you less than $100. That’s not enough. I think they should increase the fine considerably more, and impound the car on a second offence.

  20. Texting while driving is far more dangerous than drinking BEFORE driving! If you are buzzed, at least you have both hands on the wheel and are looking!!

    Why is a DUI treated so much more harshly than texting or anything else? They should be at least equal. Why is a DUI on your record for life, but no other dangerous reckless driving offense?

    The laws are complete BS and fueled by reactionary idiots!!

  21. Thisisbull says:

    A friend got pulled over when their phone was in the cup holder. Officer said they ‘could’ve been using their phone and should put the phone somewhere else like the back.’ Friend got charged for cell phone use without having even used the cell phone. This law is dumb and cities and police departments use it to their advantage to not only fill their quotas but receive extra ‘pocket money’ as well. Absurd.

  22. I agree with texting and driving is a distraction. How do u go about when you are using your phone as a map quest to get around when you don’t have any other devise? well this is what happened to me i got a thicket for this and the CA motorclycle cop gave me a ticket and labeled it as texting.

    • Law says you can’t hold it. Getting around is the driver’s issue, not a public safety issue. Sorry to hear about your ticket.

  23. I was stopped at a red light in an unfamiliar area i looked at my phone GPS to find the street I had to turn on and the cop was next to me so when the light turns green he pulls me over! Gives me a ticket for texting. I wasn’t texting just getting directions from my GPS on the phone. Like why would I text when a cop is sitting right next to me at a light?? Hello.
    My first ticket there was no fine price on it the cop was very rude.
    Will I receive something in the mail or do I have to go to court??? Anybody have any answers on this?

  24. KH: similar happened to me. I was using my phone for directions (my GPS was stolen from my car few months ago). In my case I was reading it while at the stop light and as I glance to put it down a cop behind me pulled me over. I explained but he still gave me the ticket.
    Not only was he looking for more reasons to fine me. He asked how old was my daughter and I responded she is 5 yrs old. Couldn’t believe that he told me she needs to be in a car seat. When in fact she was in her booster seat. Due to her height and weight she needs a booster seat (not a toddler car seat). I told him sir actually the new California law states that if their height is less than 4’9” they must be in a booster seat. Not based on age. Anyway, he was just finding excuses to fine me for any other reasons possible.

  25. Rob Sanche says:

    Are bluetooth wireless phone that our cell phones connect to also illegal? I don’t need to touch my cell phone to answer the bluetooth devise. I just tap it and I can talk to the person calling me. then tap it again when the call is ended less touch than turning knobs on the stereo.

  26. Yesterday, I had an medical condition, my doctor asked me to do a blood test in a lab. I typed in the lab address to the Google map in my phone, used that as an navigator. When I am reaching the lab, the cop stopped me, saying I held the cell phone in my hand. I explained to him that I was just driving to the lab and use the phone map as a reference, but he said as long as I touch my phone, holding it in my hand, I violated the law. He gave me a ticket, and I missed the test, since the lab closed at Sat afternoon.

  27. Why isn’t there a place to call in and report like drunk drivers?

  28. They should design cars that have a sensor that blocks the cell signal while the engine is on. NOW we need laws AND enforcement for those idiots driving around with thumping stereos.

  29. First of all, Shoan, I am not silly and second I was not trying to beat the law…the law is what my question was. Stop trying to be mister politically correct when you have no clue what your talking about. put the facts where your big mouth is and show me a law that can be enforced by anyone’s interpretation.

  30. Kathleen Carpenter says:

    On October 14, 2011 (just a few weeks ago) I was returning home from a vacation at Disneyland with my daughters and two of their friends to celebrate our fall birthdays. When we were on the 57 approaching the lane to merge with I-10 our lane came to a complete stop due to a dog on the highway but the other lanes were at full speed. I put my flashers behind me to alert traffic we stopped but the car didn’t stop or even brake and hit us at a full speed of 70 plus mph. I had rented a Dodge Grand Caravan instead of taking my sedan car and it saved our lives-but there isn’t much left of the van. Because he was relaxed and unaware of the impending crash his injuries are minimal and walked away. However, we are all with injuries and will be dealing with them for some time. We were pushed into a vehicle in front of us and they sustained injuries as well. The 18 year old that hit us was texting and had no idea we had come to a stop. The pictures of the scene still make me cringe. I cannot speak loud enough against texting or talking on the phone while driving. This young boy was inexperienced as a driver and didn’t understand what his actions could cause. I am full support of banning texting and driving or talking on the phone and will assist any way possible to get legislation passed in to help save lives. To have one lost – it is one too many.

  31. Shoan Shilan says:

    the point is that using the device is DISTRACTING YOU FROM DRIVING — texting, talking, taking photos, whats the difference? Make it easy on yourself, heres the mantra: No TEXTING, TALKING OR TAKING PHOTOS. Silly people try and beat the law by sidestepping a common sense issue.

  32. Joe Stentorian says:

    Sonya, please spread your news about your injured daughter. However, me and other giving California 200 dollars ain’t gonna solve a thing. It’s my personal freedom to choose to not talk on cell phone.

    Everyone is Palo Alto and Redwood city, please vote against Joe Simitian. He needs to be out of office for making up bogus law one after another to restrict personal liberty.

  33. I was pulled over for taking a picture with my cell while driving. The CHP officer gave me a ticket for cell phone use while driving. I wasn’t talking or texting … Can I contest this? any advice would be helpful.

  34. This is very sad! Our daughter sent a a text message while driving her younger brother into wrestling practice in rural Minnesota four years ago. She rolled the vehicle multiple times injuring her brother and also injuring herself. She was ejected from the vehicle and is now living life as a paraplegic with a complete spinal cord injurty. It is a tragedy that many people don’t take distracted driving seriously. When an accident affects a person, a loved one, or a friend, I can guarantee their perspective will change.

  35. Samouel Bernstein says:

    On JAN 1, 2011, the revised law removed ANY & ALL references to Digital two way radios (e.g. PTT radios i.e. Nextel), CB radios, Walkie-Talkies, private frequency company FM radios and Ham radios. Many of such devices cannot be operated “hands free” (they require than a mic be “keyed”).

    These devices are no longer mentioned or even referred to in the revised law. Therefore, if they are not SPECIFICALLY INCLUDED BY DESCRIPTION, then they are automatically excluded. The law ONLY specifically includes a narrow classification of devices described as “Cellular phones.”

    The public, law enforcement and the courts cannot “INFER” that something is illegal – it must me defined. If the legislature had meant to include these other communication devices, then they would (could and should) have included them in the definition of the “outlawed devices.” The legislature intentionally omitted the definitions of devices other than cellular phones – therefore they are legal, until they are included.

    Much like the list of outlawed assault weapons, California courts must throw out this poorly written law, or require a comprehensive list – so everyone knows EXACTLY what is legal & illegal – by their make & model number, operating methods or physical characteristics.

    They are going to have to EXACTLY define what they are going to allow & outlaw. Currently police officers across the state are writing tickets & the courts are errantly upholding traffic citations for drivers using such devices.


    With that language, they would have included ALL OF THE ABOVE DEVICES, it would automatically included new emerging technologies/devices, and would it have outlawed texting as well (a separate law would not have been required).

  36. Can you use your phone while driving as an mp3 player thats connected with an aux cord?

  37. If it’s that big of a safety issue then shouldn’t the police and other officials lead the way by setting the example and not be exempt from this law otherwise it is like I believe it to be another method to just take money away from citizens in the fake belief of safety just like cops hiding to catch speeders our even red light cameras

  38. Jimmy: Sorry to hear about your distracted driving ticket. No points now, but Sen. Joe Simitian’s Senate Bill 28 is advancing in the legislature. It’ll mandate a point upon a second or subsequent violation.

  39. i just recently got a ticket for looking at my phone while driving. does anyone know if we get points in our driving record??

  40. Matt Kuitunen says:

    GM cars have “On Star”, other cars have “Blue Tooth”. One can respond to a phone call on these cars by pushing a button on the steering wheel. The phones turn off automatically after caller hangs up. Is this now illegal? Will it be illegal to reach past the steering wheel to turn the heater or AC on or off? Will it be illegal to push a button on the front panel to turn the radio on, or change channels?
    Per chance will it be illegal to open or close the car window while driving? The worst action is probably to turn on or off the windshield wipers. Even worse if one were to turn on the turning signals. How distracting!

  41. I had my phone on speaker talking to a prospective job lead, and the Riv.pd cycle cop was hiding behind I-hop at mag & Tyler. Mind you my phone was on my lap, as I turned the corner i placed my hand on it for a split second for it wouldn’t slip off and land on the floor, and cause a bigger problem. HOW DID HE SEE THAT?
    And why is it i can eat, drink, and play the drums on my steering wheel and not be cited? this law is just another way to control us and make revenue. THANKS Sen. Joe Sinitian D-Palo Alto
    What is next? you can’t drive with under inflated or over inflated tires? oh, they are trying that!!!

  42. I seriously think that this is all some serious BULL. I was pulled over for picking up my phone and telling my gf that I would call her back because I was driving home while I was at a red light. Took me all but 15 seconds and the cop cited me for holding my hand up to my ear. Yes while waiting at the light two cars ran red lights and this CA motorcycle officer decided that he would rather cite me them go after actual reckless drivers. What type of BS is that?!?! Mind you that this damn cop was hiding in a Taco Bell parking lot.

  43. A co-worker said that she and her husband were parked in a Walmart parking lot talking on the cell phone. The key was in the ignition but the engine was NOT on. A cop came by and ticketed them for having the key in the ignition, even if they were still parked in the parking space! Is that right? And their ticket was like $300. They went to court but nothing, they still had to pay. Doesn’t seem right.

    • California cell phone law does NOT apply to private property.

    • Al Cinamon says:

      This is similar to the drunk driving caveat. If you pull off to the side of the road to sleep it off, but you leave the key in the ignition then it’s the same as “drunk driving.” The rational is that if the key is in the ignition there is an “intent” to drive.

  44. People don’t realize these laws aren’t saving lives. People who talk on phones now text on phones. It’s a lot harder to prove a texting ticket and you can see in the data that not many are issued compared to talking violations. What is worse somebody with a phone to their ear having a conversation or someone attempting to type on a tiny keyboard and read a screen while driving? And remember you can have a speaker phone or a headset and not be breaking a law so it really comes down to if your hand is up to your ear or not. And why isn’t it illegal to simply have your hand to your ear if it’s not illegal to have a conversation with someone in the car? I call BULL on these statistics of saving lives because seriously how many people who ARE talking on there cell phones and get in a wreck admit they were on a phone? You can say I sneezed or my foot cramped to avoid a cell ticket and your accident will now be off the radar. I’m suprised how many people think this law works and is a positive law. I say allow talking and banned texting. Keep your eyes on the road.

    • Al Cinamon says:

      David X, you are right in your reasoning, but very wrong in your conclusion. Crashes and deaths are up in NY since the laws that encourage distracted driving have been passed. They are not laws to promote safety. Rather they are designed to fool the public and fill the Treasury.

      But to say talking on a cell phone while driving should be allowed is wrong since that is the distraction, not holding the phone to your ear. When having a conversation of the phone your eyes are not on the road. Your eyes are on the person on the other end of the conversation. Next time you walk down a street take a good look at the people talking on the phone. They won’t even be aware of your presence.

  45. Well, with the way things are going here in San Francisco, anything is possible… MUNI, our City transit service, is apparently now fitted with a couple different cameras in strategic positions on the exterior of some vehicles and is snapping pictures of cars – and their license plates – that are parked in red-zoned bus stops when a bus pulls up and is unable to pull into the zone because a car is parked in it. People are shocked to receive their photo and a citation later in the mail – the citations run about $300 I believe. A little offtopic, but just demonstration of that anything is possible.

  46. Stanley … Haven’t heard of one, and I doubt the cops would have the time or inclination to chase after tips. In a perfect world, there would be a service that would send a letter to the violators once someone reports them, like the smog line. Thanks for the question.

  47. Stanley Stan says:

    Is there a web site or call in number where a citizen can report cell phone use while driving, something like the 1-800-EXHAUST for cell phones????

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