California has several laws banning the use of cell phones and other wireless devices while behind the wheel. The first two laws prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones and drivers under 18 years old from using cell phones altogether. A third law bans texting and other wireless device use while driving.
This article covers the specifics of California's distracted driving laws and the penalties a driver will face for a cell phone or texting ticket.
California law prohibits all drivers from using a handheld cell phone while operating a vehicle. However, the restrictions vary depending on the driver's age.
For the most part, drivers who are at least 18 years old are allowed to use hands-free phones while driving. These drivers can use Bluetooth or other earpieces, but cannot cover both ears. The law also allows drivers 18 years or older to use the speakerphone function of a wireless phone.
The law is more restrictive for drivers who are under the age of 18. These underage drivers cannot use a wireless telephone, pager, laptop, or any other electronic communication device (whether handheld or hands-free) to either speak or text while driving, period. The only exception is for using a wireless device in an emergency situation to call the police, fire, or medical personnel.
A few exceptions apply to the general ban. Handheld cellphones may be used:
Although these exceptions are written into the law, they don't come up very often.
The base fine for a first cell phone violation is $20. For second and subsequent offenses, the fine is $50. But remember—the actual amount you'll pay once assessments are added will be significantly more than the base fine. The total for a first violation will likely exceed $150, and a second or subsequent offense can cost over $250.
A cell phone ticket will add one demerit point to your record if within 36 months of a prior distracted driving offense.
Handheld violations. The police have primary enforcement authority for a violation of the handheld cellphone law—meaning, an officer can pull you over just for this infraction.
Under 18 Hands-free violations. However, the ban on hands-free devices for drivers under 18 is a secondary violation. So, an officer cannot pull you over just for this infraction. An officer can, however, cite you for a violation if he or she pulls you over for another reason.
A separate law prohibits texting or any other use of a wireless device while driving.
California's texting law contains exceptions for:
The base fines for violating the texting prohibition are $20 for the first offense and $50 for a second or subsequent offense. Again, additional penalty assessments can make the fine more than double the base amount.
Violations that occur within 36 months of a prior will result in one demerit point.