Hands-free texting OK’d in California

text messaging technology bill author Jeff Miller of CaliforniaCalifornians soon will be free to use hands-free technology to text message while driving, under a measure signed into law Friday. The bill’s sponsor called passage “a huge victory for commuters.”

Assemblyman Jeff Miller, R-Corona, pushed through the relatively low profile AB 1536. He cited the burden of current distracted driving limits on business people who spend so much time in vehicles:

“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,” said Miller, pictured. He’d dubbed the bill the “freedom to communicate” act.

The revised texting law goes into effect Jan. 1.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed State Sen. Joe Simitian’s plan to hike distracted driving fines, saying fines would be too high for “people of ordinary means.” That plan would have more than doubled penalties for texting and using handheld cell phones.

U.S. automakers, tech companies such as smartphone makers, and the entrepreneurs behind various hands-free devices have been seeking changes in laws and legislation that permit voice-controlled hands-free operation of electronic systems.

The automakers have invested heavily in bringing wireless communications and entertainment systems in their vehicles.

HandsFreeInfo.com editor Glenn Abel told the Silicon Valley Mercury News that “the larger trend is that these laws get passed pretty quickly or by people who don’t understand the technology. And they’re finding that once they get these laws into the field, there are problems, so they come back and try to fine-tune everything.”

Some state distracted driving laws were written to allow for hands-free operation of all portable electronic devices, but California’s texting law was not. (The state has separate cell phone and texting laws for motorists.) The Mercury News article cited confusion Friday over which devices were affected by the new law, even in Assemblyman Miller’s office.

The broadly worded AB 1536 cleared the Legislature without significant opposition. The Senate vote was unanimous.

Miller’s web site says the assemblyman believes “public safety is the first priority of government.” The Inland Empire legislator said the new law brings California “up to date with emerging technology.” He has seats on the Insurance, Ethics and Transportation committees.

Meanwhile, Sen. Simitian has lowered the fine increases called for in his latest distracted driving bill to $10. His Senate Bill 1310 was approved May 14 and sent to the Assembly, where it won backing from the Transportation Committee on June 12 but failed to advance since then.

The new fines would be $30 (first offense) then $60. With fees and surcharges, that means distracted driving violators would pay up to $372 out of pocket.


  1. mbookbinder says:

    I believe that the lobbyists have more control on government legislation as each state and province has really lessened the level of enforcement and penalty dues to lack of people, budget and directed funding. In addition, I currently see more people driving with phones in their ear than before, hence as legislators and police cannot enforce the law, people just carry on abusing it and more people will get killed.

    The Californian law does not stipulate that it is only legal to text using voice activated text input response. Therefore, it is ok to text while driving. Really pathetic as car manufacturers get more of a leg up on law enforcement agencies. Money talks and logical, safe, legal and responsible driving walks.

    • Thanks for weighing in MB. The law does continue to ban texting while driving and is reasonably clear about the exception for hands-free operation. But how many people will take the time to find and read the texting law? I also see a spike in drivers using cell phones in (Southern) California. Look forward to your next comment!

  2. Al Cinamon says:

    … and when the bodies start piling up, let’s call it the “freedom to kill” act. Shame on California. To those of you who disagree, spare me your vitriol. Believe it or not, driving is a full time job. I know many of you think that after awhile, the car knows where to go by itself. I also know that many of you think you need not pay attention on familiar roads. Two myths! Cars have no brain (like some drivers) AND there is no such thing as a familiar road. Conditions change constantly, which is why driving needs your undivided attention.

    • Al — This law doesn’t break new ground — hands-free (voice controlled) texting is increasingly allowed as states craft or revise their distracted driving laws, or has been allowed under a blanket hands-free exemption for wireless communications devices. You still can’t drive while holding these devices in California.

      How will teens interpret this news? That’s it’s OK to text after all? The fine print rarely comes into play when it comes to rules regarding smart phones and driving. Safety advocates are alarmed by the signal being sent by California, which had been a leader in this area.

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