California’s Laws on Cell Phone Use While Driving Explained

California's Laws on Cell Phone Use While Driving Explained

By now, most of us are aware there can be dangerous consequences to using a cellphone while driving. But, many are unfamiliar with the actual laws on cell phone use while driving. These regulations can vary from state to state, so it’s important to do your research in each state you plan to visit or do business in.

California has some of the strictest laws on cell phone use while driving, so we wanted to dive deeper and look at the fine print in these regulations. To ensure your staff knows the law, we are sharing these frequently asked questions shared by California DMV.

FAQs For Cell Phone Use While Driving:

What are California’s handheld phone laws for motorists?

Two laws dealing with the use of wireless telephones while driving went into effect on July 1, 2008. The first law prohibits all drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle, (California Vehicle Code [VC] §23123). Motorists 18 and over may use a “hands-free device.” The second law prohibits all drivers from texting while operating a motor vehicle (VC §23123.5). The third law prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a wireless telephone or hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle (VC §23124).

A third law, California’s Wireless Communications Device Law, took effect on January 1, 2009. It makes it an infraction to write, send, or read text-based communication on an electronic wireless communications device, such as a cell phone while driving a motor vehicle.

What if I need to use my telephone during an emergency and I do not have a “hands-free” device?

The law allows a driver to use a wireless telephone to make emergency calls to a law enforcement agency, a medical provider, the fire department, or other emergency services agency.

What is the fine if I’m convicted?

The base fine for the first offense is $20 and $50 for subsequent convictions. With penalty assessments, the fine can be more than triple the base fine amount.

Will I receive a point on my driver’s license if I’m convicted for a violation of the wireless telephone or wireless communication device law?

No. The violation is a reportable offense; however, a violation point will not be assigned to your DMV record.

Will the conviction appear on my driving record?

Yes, but the violation point will not be added.

Are passengers affected by these laws?

No. These laws only apply to the person driving a motor vehicle.

Do these laws apply to out-of-state drivers whose home states do not have such laws?


What if my phone has a push-to-talk feature, can I use that?

No. However, the law does provide an exception for those operating a commercial motor truck or truck tractor (excluding pickups), implements of husbandry, farm vehicle or tow truck, to use a two-way radio operated by a “push-to-talk” feature. A push-to-talk feature attached to a hands-free ear piece or other hands-free device is acceptable.

What other exceptions are there?

Operators of an authorized emergency vehicle during the course of employment are exempt, as are those motorists operating a vehicle on private property.

Are there exceptions for dialing?

This law does not prohibit reading, selecting or entering a phone number, or name in an electronic wireless device for the purpose of making or receiving a phone call. Drivers are strongly urged not to enter a phone number while driving.