California Expands Its Distracted Driving Laws Beyond Phone Calls and Text Messaging

New California legislation prohibits motorists from using wireless devices in any way while driving.

In September 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1785 (A.B. 1785) into law. A.B. 1785 will expand California’s distracted driving laws to prohibit not only calls and texting, but also using other features of wireless devices while driving. The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2017.

Current California Law

Existing California law makes it illegal for motorists to text or talk on a cellphone while driving, unless the motorist uses a hands-free, voice-operated device. The text messaging provision of the law applies to writing, sending, and reading text messages. (Cal. Veh. Code § § 23123, 23123.5, 23124 (2016).)

New Legislation

A.B. 1785 will amend Section 23123.5 of the California Vehicle. As amended, the statute will prohibit “holding and operating” a wireless device while behind the wheel, except when using the device in hands-fee, voice-operated mode. With this new wording, the Legislature has effectively banned all wireless device use (that requires use of the hands) while driving—not just texting and talking.

A number of exceptions were built into the new law. One such exception allows motorists to activate or deactivate mounted GPS devices while driving, so long as it takes only one tap or swipe to do so. Manufacturer-installed systems that are embedded in the vehicle are completely exempt from the new rule. (Cal. Veh. Code § 23123.5 (version effective Jan. 1, 2017).)

(Read more about California’s distracted driving laws and the penalties for a violation.)