California’s hands-free law now in effect

California cell phone driving law imageOn July 1, two major laws went into effect in this cell phone-loving state. Drivers are required to use hands-free devices if they wish to make cell phone calls from their moving vehicles.

In addition, drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using wireless phones while driving — sorry, that means no hands-free devices. Teen drivers also are prohibited from using text-messaging devices and laptop computers.

The first infraction brings a $20 ticket; any others will cost $50. The Los Angeles Times says the true costs of those cell phone tickets are $76 and $190, figuring in court costs and penalties.

For now, any violations of California’s cell phone and texting laws will not result in points — as in insurance company rate hikes — but stay tuned.

California law enforcement agencies had varying policies on how actively they’d be enforcing the new cell phone laws come the July 4 week. The Highway Patrol planned strict enforcement, while the Los Angeles Police Department adopted “an educational period,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“People ask us, ‘Is there going to be a grace period?’ We say, ‘Yes, it’s June 30,’ ” a CHP spokesman said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the hands-free legislation in fall 2006. The bill was SB 1613, from state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto.

Simitian also authored SB 33, now a law that prohibits teen drivers’ use of cell phones and text messaging devices such as walkie-talkies, pagers, two-way messaging devices and PDAs while driving.

Of the young driver law, the senator said: ”I introduced this bill for one simple reason it will save lives. No one would argue that just because we can’t eliminate all the distractions affecting driver safety, we shouldn’t eliminate the ones we can. This is especially true when it comes to young drivers.”

Simitian filed SB 28 on June 19, 2008, seeking to apply the text-messaging (and email) prohibitions to all drivers.

The nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California recently estimated that 300 fewer people will die each year in traffic accidents as a result of the hand-held cell-phone ban for California drivers.

Here are some questions and answers about mobile phones and driving, from the California Department of Motor Vehicles:

Drivers 18 and older:
Q: What if I need to use my phone during an emergency and I do not have a hands-free device?

A: The law allows a driver using a wireless telephone to make emergency calls, including, but not limited to, calls to a law enforcement agency, health care provider, fire department, or other emergency services agency.

Q: What are the fine(s) if I am convicted? 

A: The base fine for a first offense is $20, and $50 for each subsequent conviction. The courts will impose additional administrative fees.

Q: Will I receive a point on my driving record if I am convicted for a violation of the cellular phone law?

A: No. The violation is a reportable offense; however, DMV will not assign a violation point.

Q: Will a conviction appear on my driving record?
A: Yes, but a violation point will not be added.

Drivers under 18:
Q: If I am under 18, can a peace officer stop me if he/she suspects I am using a cellular phone or other mobile service device?
A: A law enforcement officer may pull you over if he/she observes or determines you are using a cellular phone.

Q: Why is the law more strict for provisional drivers?

A: Statistics show that teen drivers are more likely than older drivers to be involved in accidents because they lack driving experience and tend to take greater risks. Distractions, such as talking with passengers, eating or drinking, and talking on cellular phones or texting increase the chance you will be involved in a serious accident.

Q: Can my parents give me permission to allow me to use my cellular phone when driving?
A: No. The only exception is an emergency situation that requires you to call a law enforcement agency, health care provider, fire department or other emergency entity.

Q: If my car has a built in hands-free phone feature, may I use it while driving?
A: No. The law prohibits anyone under 18 years old from using any type of wireless device while driving, except in certain emergency situations.


  1. If you are issued a ticket for not being hands free, is court appearance mandatory?

  2. I was driving and on a handsfree (headset) call. I picked up my phone but didn’t even look at it, and set it on my lap before getting into a turn lane. The officer pulled me over and I still had my headset in my ear and phone on my lap. I explained what he saw and he said “thank you for using your headset, but don’t forget the law is very strict.. you can’t even hold your phone” and then he let me go. Awesome.. BUT – I looked up laws in other places where “holding” is explicitly stated. This is not the case with the CA law. So – was he correct?

    • Editor says:

      Marc — This is before the courts, more or less. A Fresno appeals court ruled recently that the intent and spirit of the law is you can’t hold a cell phone while driving. The case is going on to a higher appeals court. For now, the issue seems to depend on the judge’s interpretation of the law. You’re correct that some other states specifically ban the holding of smartphones, but not California. It’s always your word vs. the officer’s, so to be safe from stops just don’t hold the thing.

  3. Amy, I think the point MANY are trying to make is they were NOT driving. And MANY were not even using their phones. So to tell people to show consideration and obey the law, is kind of silly. Many of them were obeying the law…that is the point of their gripes! I completely understand the law and the reason behind it, and the need to be strict; but there also needs to be common sense on the side of law enforcement, and they can’t just go after every person they see scratching their ears or looking down at their laps, because law agencies need to collect a few extra bucks.

  4. Seriously people, it’s the LAW for a reason! I can’t tell you how many times during the day that I am driving and come upon an idiot talking on their phone or texting and holding up traffic. Show some consideration to those of us who obey the law and quit using your phones while driving. NOTHING is that important.

  5. I agree with the others California is getting crazy with the cell phone issue. Eating, changing music on your radio can cause an accident. What’s next?

  6. charles P says:

    i was stopped by the cop stating holding my iphone in my right hand even i am not using the phone. i am using it for music and for what ever reason all of the sudden, my sound was blasted and I wanna adjust the volume. my sound is still loud when he came to window and saw me trying to fix the volume in my radio control. He knows its my music and even wrote it down to the ticket. I am planning to contest it since i didnt use my iphone as a phone but as an ipod. Do I have a chance in court?

    • Charles: California law says you can’t “use a wireless telephone” and drive unless via hands-free operation. An iPhone is a wireless phone. You were holding it and using it. Next case … (sorry)

  7. jennifer says:

    I so agree they are getting ridiculous exp. Here in Cali. I just got my first cell phone ticket I was stopped at a red light and got a text I just looked at my phone I DID NOT AND WAS NOT GONNA TEXT BACK! And the cops instantly started arguing with me that I was. You can’t touch your phone in your car in the state of shitty California!

  8. I want to know who reports the cops? I’ve seen MANY of them texting and talking on their cell phones! SMH!!!!!

  9. i got a ticket for using the cell, but i wasn’t using it. my ear was hurting really bad from coming down the mtn, so i was pressing against it with my hand. i showed the cop my cell to see that it hasn’t been used, but no matter, got the ticket anyways. then the judge sided with the cop because the cop said my hand went down real fast. ya stupid, i have a stick shift! and how “hands free” is that! the laws are getting so ridiculous, especially her in calif.

  10. I got a ticket just last month in Burbank, I was not even talking on my phone, I was dropping off a package for my work and there was an issue with something and I got like 5 calls in a row. I was not talking at on my phone, I just looked down at it for 30seconds while stopped at a light to see who was calling. An officer saw and pulled me over. He said the ticket did not go on your driving record and was not going do cost a lot. Whatever, ticket cost me 159 dollars plus a 10 dollar fee. SUCKS!!!

  11. I love to drive past cops juggling. For all you safety law freaks dont worry, I am wearing a helmet!

  12. how about eating greasy drive-through food while driving .. go give out tickets for that too.

  13. The lack of human decency, from LAPD especially, is disturbing.

    Given a ticket when I wasn’t even touching the phone, it was hands-free on speaker-phone, on my lap. Anything for money, it’s not really about safety anymore- let’s get real. What about eating while driving? Reading while driving? Putting on make-up? It’s just ridiculous.

    This stuff is making people more angry, especially during these hard times, and therefore less safe on the road.

  14. i can see texting as being dangerous while driving, as you have to look down to type. but talking on a cell. i started using cell phone in the 90’s, and it’s no different than talking to someone in the back seat. the bottom line is, california needs more money, and this is just another tactic to bring in more revenue. i may get a ticket, and i’ll pay it, but i will continue to talk on a cell phone.

  15. I think it is more distracting trying to eat a burger from carl’s jr while driving or driving with a bunch of children in the car than talking on a hand held device….Thank goodness we haven’t allowed the government to control when we can eat and how many children we can have in fear it may cause a car accident. I understand the texting deal but talking on the cell is bull. It’s no more distracting than talking to a passenger or listening to the radio.

  16. David Morrison says:

    It’s June 15 ,2011
    just got pulled over by an Ca highway patrol,he expand that the reason he pulled me was he saw me on my phone,u know how cops r,u can’t argue with them they think there always right.will I said he was mistaken,because it was scratching my ear an have a bad sun burn an I was pickin the skin off. He just gave me a dirt look an rudly said sign the ticket. Will officer T Wyatt of the California Highway Patrol san Bernardino office see u n court.

  17. It’s about time. Hand held Cell phone use is dangerous.

  18. My citation cost $151 for my first violation. The court’s so-called administrative fees are a bunch of BS, especially if the ticket itself was suppose to cost $20 – wheres the $130 going? I don’t think it should cost $130 for court administrators to type into the data base that I paid my ticket.
    But whatever, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Americans are lossing our voices and along with that-our privileges.

  19. The law reads “use” any use even to check the time.

  20. Ashlee, the fines for cell phone violations by teens and adults are the same. They are explained in the post’s third paragraph.With court costs you could pay as much as $190.

  21. I have been looking on the web and i have found nothing saying what the cost is if someone under 18 is caught using a cell phone.

  22. About time. I am sick of seeing near-fatalities becayse some fool cannot be bothered to get off the phone. But I wonder what effect fooling with unfamiliar head phone devices will have on the accident rates for the first year.

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