For motorists who have become accustomed to holding their phones as they drive, a new law may encourage safer driving habits in the new year.
As of Jan. 1, 2017 it is illegal in California to hold or operate a mobile device for any reason while behind the wheel. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1785 that greatly expands the state’s constraints on how drivers may use mobile phones and tablets.
Drivers are allowed to use only mobile devices that are mounted on the windshield or dashboard and only for actions that require a single tap or swipe.
Under the new law, mobile activities like responding to a text or Facebook post, opening a camera app and taking a photo, playing a game, or typing text into a search box are prohibited for drivers. The penalty is a fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses.
Cell Phone Use Among California Drivers Increasing
Passage of the new law follows the revelation in 2016 that more California drivers are using cellphones, which likely is causing more wrecks and injuries. The state’s Office of Traffic Safety found in a study that almost 13 percent of drivers text, talk or use a cellphone in some other way while behind the wheel. In 2015, just 9 percent of drivers used cellphones.
The study uncovered some disturbing statistics, including an increase of more than 33 percent over the past year in the number of motorists typing on mobile devices. While drivers of all ages use their phones for talking and texting, the study found that young people — ages 16 to 24 — engaged in distracted driving due to a smartphone more often than people in other age groups.
Officials say the cell phone use numbers are discouraging and probably are low due to the challenge of observing drivers using their mobile devices. However, the study results also were not unexpected, since some 200 million smartphones are in use in the United States.
California already had a law on the books requiring the use of hands-free technology for talking on the phone while driving. Still, the number of drivers hurt or killed in the state due to distracted driving — more than 11,000 in 2015 — has been on the increase recently.
In addition to the new law regulating cell phone use, state and federal officials have worked in recent years to make motorists aware of the dangers associated with distracted driving. Efforts have included a social media campaign known as “Silence the Distraction” that urges people to put away their mobile devices while driving. Officials also plan to boost spending on additional educational efforts in 2017.
Reasons Behind the New Law
Despite the state’s educational efforts, distracted driving continues to plague California motorists, and officials found the results of the study concerning. Distracted driving increases risk for drivers, passengers and anyone on or near the state’s roads, they note.
Bill Quirk, a state Assembly member from Hayward, stated that he introduced the new cell phone restrictions as a way to put a stop to distracted driving. In discussion of the bill, some representatives urged passage by relaying stories of loved ones who died as a result of distracted driving. However, some Assembly members felt that the measure was too broad.
California already had a law on the books prohibiting calling or texting while driving unless a hands-free device is used. However, a court had ruled that using a smartphone in other ways, such as for GPS, was not illegal under existing law. The new law makes it clear that “holding and operating” a phone, regardless of the reason, is prohibited while driving.
What Does the Law Require?
The text of the new law relays the ways in which it differs from the previous law. Under the existing law, drivers could use only wireless devices that were “designed and configured” to allow hands-free operation.
The new law expands that requirement to prohibit drivers from holding and operating wireless, handheld phones or other communications devices. Drivers can use their hands to interact with devices only if the devices are mounted on the windshield — in the same way that a GPS system would be mounted — or on the center console or dashboard in a way that does not impede the driver’s view.
Drivers can use properly mounted wireless devices only to “activate or deactivate” features that can be completed with “a single swipe or tap” of a finger. The law doesn’t apply to manufacturer-installed systems that come with a vehicle.
Has a Distracted Driver Injured You?
Lawmakers hope that the new regulation will cut down on accidents and injuries caused by distracted driving. In the meantime, if you’ve been in an accident caused by another driver’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, damage to your vehicle, and other harm caused to you. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney, please contact Appel Law Firm LLP.