Many Californians either talk, text or access social media and apps while they drive. Using a handheld smartphone or cell phone is illegal for all Californians, regardless of their age. People who are cited for violating the cell phone law may be cited under California Vehicle Code 23123.5, which prohibits talking, texting, emailing or reading cell phones messages while driving.
More and more officers are instead choosing to charge people who are stopped for talking or using their cell phones while driving under 22350. This section is the basic speed law violation prohibiting driving in a manner that is unsafe for the conditions or that endangers others.
Why Officers are Citing Drivers Under CVC 22350
More and more officers are choosing to charge drivers under CVC 22350 instead of 23123.5 for several reasons.
- CVC 23123.5 prohibits the use of cellphones while driving unless those phones are hands-free and being used in that way.
- There is an exception for people who are using their cell phone to make emergency calls.
- Officers have found it difficult to prove violations of this statute in some cases. For example, if an officer sees a driver that keeps looking down, the officer might assume that the driver is likely looking at his or her cell phone. If the officer pulls the person over, the person may not admit to his or her cell phone use.
- Under CVC 22350, however, people are prohibited from driving at a speed that is unsafe or that endangers others. When drivers take their eyes off of the road, they are not paying attention to the traffic around them. This means that the action could potentially endanger others even if the driver is traveling at low speeds. Officers also commonly observe evidence of poor driving when people look down at their cell phones.
Common Violations Observed by Officers
When people are talking, texting or using social media while driving, they are diverting their attention away from the road. This is dangerous, and officers observe these distracted drivers committing many other traffic offenses about which the drivers are simply unaware. Some of the most common violations law enforcement officers observe these drivers doing include the following:
- Changing lanes in an unsafe manner
- Impeding the flow of traffic by driving too slowly
- Running red lights and stop signs
What is Allowed and What is Prohibited
While even using hands-free devices while driving can be distracting, doing so is legal for drivers who are older than 18 in California.
- Those who are under age 18 may only use a cell phone while they are driving to make an emergency call.
- People are allowed to use voice activation features as long as they do not have the phone in their hand.
- Similarly, people may use voice commands to send texts if the phone is hands-free. People are not allowed to hold their phones in order to activate the voice command feature, however.
- People are not allowed to use their handheld cell phones to text, talk, read messages or check social media while they are stopped at traffic lights.
- They are also not allowed to change radio stations or songs while they are driving because doing so requires people to hold the phone.
It is unclear whether or not people are allowed to check GPS on their phones while they are driving. The California Highway Patrol states that if a person is seen looking at their phone while holding it, they will be ticketed.
What Happens When a Driver is Stopped for Using a Cell Phone
When a driver is stopped for using his or her cell phone, he or she may receive a ticket under either CVC 23123 or CVC 22350. If he or she is convicted, the driver will be fined and pay surcharges that are attached to the offenses. If they fight their ticket in court and lose, then they may also be charged court costs.
People who drive while using their cell phones may have their attention distracted away from the road. Because driver distraction greatly increases the risk of accident involvement, law enforcement officers do stop and ticket drivers who the officers observe using handheld cell phones. Convictions may lead to increased insurance rates in addition to the fines. Those who are charged may want to consult with a traffic ticket attorney for advice.