Handheld Cell Phone Law Clarifications...Coming July 1st

Handheld Cell Phone Ban in California on July 1stOne last reminder to dislodge that cell phone from your ear while driving starting Tuesday, July 1st.  The California Wireless Telephone Automobile Safety Act of 2006 takes effect on that date.

Dislodge Phone From Ear!

Many of us are addicted to holding the cell phone to our ear in the car.  Get it out of your system!  Conejo Joe plans to drive the entire weekend of June 28-29 while using a handheld cell phone glued to his ear.  That should do the trick. Or consider moving to our neighbors in Oregon, Nevada, Arizona or Mexico (except Mexico City), where there currently are no bans in place.

You can use a Bluetooth or other type of earpiece to talk on the phone. But you can't have both ears covered.  You can also use a built in hands-free system in your car.

The Speakerphone Loophole?

The California DMV has Q&As about the new law that provide more guidance.  The new law only prohibits using a cell phone unless it is configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and of course is used in that manner.  But you are not prohibited from using the speakerphone function of your cell phone while driving.  I called the DMV and CHP to confirm this.  The DMV first said "NO!" but when I pointed out the specific answer on the website she backed off and said you can use the speakerphone but still can't hold the phone.  The CHP representative was more realistic and agreed that the law is not clear but future case law may clarify the issue.  If the phone is on your lap, the dash, the passenger seat, etc., you can use the speakerphone.  If you are holding the cell phone while using the speakerphone, you may be pushing your luck.

Dialing and Texting

The Q&As also spell out that the law does not prohibit dialing the phone, though of course dialing while driving is discouraged.  In what I find to be quite bizarre, the law does not prohibit sending and receiving text messages while driving.  But they do "strongly discourage" this and a citation can and will be issued if you aren't driving the vehicle safely while sending out that text.

Drivers Under 18

With an exception only for "emergency" situations (which also applies to those 18 and over), no drivers under age 18 can use a cell phone, pager, walkie talkie or other devices to speak or text while driving, even "hands-free."  And this doesn't change if you have mom or dad in the car with you.

We are not Alone

We are not the first to ban handheld phone use while driving.  New York banned them over 5 years ago.  Connecticut, New Jersey and District of Columbia have bans.  Washington State's ban is also taking effect on July 1st.  In fact, Washington started banning text messages while driving on January 1st.  Local bans in place in various cities in New Mexico and other states.  And most countries around the world have handheld cell phone bans.