About California’s New Hands-Free Cell Phone Driving Law

The new bill, AB 1785, plugs the loopholes of the existing hands-free cell phone law. That means no more changing the Spotify channel, looking at Snaps or checking email, Californians.

About California’s New Hands-Free Cell Phone Driving Law

We’ve said goodbye to President Obama. We’re waiting to find out what (crazy thing?) may come out of the White House (or the incoming President’s Twitter feed) next, and as we move to the middle of January it’s time to start seeing the fruits of our votes and laws that were signed into effect last year.

One of those laws in California, will have a particularly big impact on your driving habits, and it just came into effect this past weekend. Meet the new hands-free cell phone driving law.


First, a little background on the law: Back in September of last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed a more restrictive hands-free cell phone driving law into effect.

Restrictions on cell phones usage while driving have been around since 2006 when it became illegal to talk on your cell phone while driving, and the tiny devices we have come to rely on for our music, navigation, and communication have become the source of a lot of hot discussions all across the country. The reason? Those little devices are major sources of distraction. Whether we’re shuffling up our Pandora stations, texting a friend, or trying to find a way around a current traffic jam, the handheld devices are making us take our eyes off the road and causing major accidents and even deaths across the country.

The stats are staggering, too. According to the Center For Disease Control, more than eight people are killed, per day, in the U.S. as a result of distracted driving and nearly 1200 people are injured. Over at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, they say that in 2014 (the most recent year for the statistics), more than 3,100 people were killed and 431,000 people were injured from accidents that directly resulted from distracted driving. The statistics for young people, age 15 to 19 are even scarier. According to NHTSA, ten percent of all drivers between those ages reported being distracted at the time of a crash. That group is has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of an accident. Both organizations define distracted driving as anything that takes your attention away from the road ahead. That includes things like adjusting the temperature, changing the radio station, eating, or using a cell phone.

Add to this, the fact that cell phones are more prevalent today than they were just five or ten years ago and you have a perfect storm of problems. According to NHTSA, the percentage of drivers who were text messaging or manipulating a handheld device increased from 1.7% in 2013 to 2.2% in 2014. That means that at any given time, across the U.S. approximately 660,000 drivers are doing something on their cell phone while driving. That number has stayed the same since 2010.

The amount of time our eyes are pulled off the road may seem tiny but it can end up causing major catastrophe. According to a 2013 study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, your eyes are off the road for 23 seconds when you are texting. Their 2009 study argued that when you are driving at highway speeds (55 mph), just 5 seconds is enough time to cover the length of a football field. Want to see how distracted you are when you try and multitask behind the wheel? Check out this interactive piece that the New York Times did a few years ago. Fair warning though, you’ll need to download the latest Flash Player to play the game.

All those stats have played a major role in getting states like California to pass hands-free cell phone laws. Currently there is no state that bans all cellphone use while driving, but states like California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Washington D.C., and Virginia, do not allow drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving. If you are a younger or newer driver, there are 36 states that ban you from using your cell phone at all. For a complete list of the states where bans and other laws are in effect, check out this Wikipedia page.

So what exactly does the new California law say?


The new bill, AB 1785, basically “plugs the loopholes” of the existing hands-free cell phone law, according to the Sacramento Bee. Prior to the enactment of bill AB 1785, it was illegal to do things like talk or text, but still technically legal to scan through Twitter or Facebook, take pictures while driving, or shoot video out your window. The new bill now makes it illegal to hold your cellphone for any reason when you are driving.

That means no more changing the Spotify channel, grabbing a Snap or glancing at email, Californians.

It is, however, still legal to touch your phone just once to activate a hands-free app that you can control with your voice but, only if the device is attached to your dashboard or windshield. Drivers must also mount their phones where it won’t interfere with their view of the road.

There are a few things that the new law does not affect, however. The law does not impact manufacturer-installed systems that are embedded in the car. It also does not affect people making emergency calls (those made to law enforcement or medical authorities), those operating on private property, and those operating authorized emergency vehicles.


So what if you get caught swiping right more than once? The first fine is $20 but according to NOLO, will likely cost you $150 or more. Each subsequent fine is $50 but no points will be added to your license. And that $50 can balloon to more than twice as much once fees and other items are added to it.

So, even if you think you are a master multi-tasker, the new California hands-free cell phone driving law is going to make using your cell phone while driving that much more costly. Given how risky it is, it makes sense to simply put it down while you are behind the wheel, and avoid any potential accidents or tickets.

For more on the latest news affecting the way you drive and what you do while you drive, check back here at the Instamotor blog on the regular.

Buying Tips
The Instamotor TeamThe Instamotor Team

Not your typical used car salesman. Our team is here to provide honest and transparent advice about car buying and selling.