Keep Your Eyes on the Road: 2017 Brings New Cellphone Restrictions for California Drivers

Existing California law restricts motorists from talking on a cellphone or texting while driving, except when using a device in voice-operated, hands-free mode. The current text messaging restriction applies to writing, sending, and reading texts on a cellphone or other wireless device while driving. The law doesn’t, however, address other uses of cellphones and wireless devices. So common smartphone and tablet features like internet browsers and GPS—which don’t involve text messaging—aren’t covered. (Cal. Veh. Code §§ 23123, 23123.5, 23124 (2016).)

Realizing the deficienciesroad-people-street-smartphone in the current law, the California Legislature passed legislation (Assembly Bill 1785, “A.B. 1785”) this past year to fill the gap. The new law will prohibit California motorists from “holding and operating” any cellphone or wireless device while driving. By using this broad wording, the Legislature presumably intended to restrict motorists from doing anything on their devices that could be a distraction. Several exceptions apply to the new rule, one of which permits drivers to turn on or off a mounted GPS, so long as it requires only one tap or swipe to do so. Manufacturer-installed systems that are embedded in the vehicle are also exempt. (Cal. Veh. Code § 23123.5 (version effective Jan. 1, 2017).)

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